The Tree That Shot Henry by Russell Holbrook
Al had seen a lot in his three-hundred and eighty-seven years. Too much, he felt. But, such was the life of a tree; besides watching and occasionally swaying, there really wasn’t much else to do. Of all that Al had observed in his life, the creatures called humans were what fascinated him the most. As repellant and absurd as he found most of them to be, he couldn’t help becoming enraptured in their daily dramas. There was one human Al found particularly fascinating. His name was Henry, and Al lived in his yard. It was a nice yard on a nice farm and Henry was a nice enough man. One day Henry brought home a very nice girl, who had long blond curls and called herself Carrol.
Henry and Carrol spent many summer afternoons in the cool shade of Al’s branches, laughing and talking, having picnics, and enjoying each other’s company. One night when the moon glowed bright and full, the couple gathered under Al’s arms to play with the Ouija Board. Carrol had been talking about it for weeks but Henry had protested, saying that he thought the Ouija board was boring and pointless because most spirits were bad conversationalists who talked too slow. Still, Carrol persisted until Henry relented and on that night of the full moon they sat under their favorite tree, their hands on the planchette, looking into one another’s eyes. And Al looked down from above.
After several dud attempts at communicating with whatever spirits may have been around at the time, Carrol and Henry got a response. Carrol gasped. Her bosom heaved.
Henry felt a stirring in his groin. Hmmm, heaving bosoms.
A peal of thunder sounded in the far distance, and Carrol began her questions.
As it turned out, the spirit didn’t want to talk about their favorite color, their favorite food, or whether or not they liked Ferris wheel rides on brisk, fall evenings. The spirit said their favorite color was hate, they preferred murder over pancakes, and the only ride they liked was the ferry over the river Styx. Henry was both aghast and offended by the spirit’s sarcastic answers which did not produce any further bosom heaves from Carol, who simply felt disappointed.
“This spirit is a smarty-pants jerk,” Carrol said.
Henry nodded in agreement.
“Why don’t you ask a question,” she said to Henry.
Henry sighed but agreed. After a moment’s contemplation he said, “Spirit, is there buried treasure in my yard?”
The planchette moved. Yes
The couple’s eyes lit up. They smiled together.
“Spirit,” Henry said, “where is the treasure buried? How did it get here? Can you provide exact coordinates?”
And the planchette began to move as the spirit began to speak.
Long, long ago there was a farmer who lived on this very land. The farmer was very poor, and being poor made him very, very sad. Although the farmer had a loving wife and a kind-hearted son and a working farm, he wanted money and riches above all else. One day the farmer’s teenage son came home from the market with a large goat who had a coat blacker than a starless night, a fierce gray beard, burning red eyes, and long, gnarled, pointy horns. The sight of the mysterious animal filled the farmer with trepidation. Upon the father’s inquiry, the boy revealed that the goat had been given to him by a fellow farmer, a haggard man whom the son had never seen at the market before. Happy that the farm would have a buck, the son gladly accepted and brought the goat home. He named the goat Black Francis and gave him his own room in the barn.
A week later the farmer was watching Black Francis wander around the yard. When the goat stopped to poop, the farmer noticed something peculiar: Francis’s waste seemed to sparkle in the sun. The farmer went over to inspect and discovered that Black Francis had expelled a small pile of gold. He was a very special goat indeed.
The farmer became obsessed with Black Francis. He neglected everything and everyone but the goat, and spent every day following him around the yard. And every time Black Francis made a pile of gold, the farmer would bury it where it fell.
Henry interrupted the spirit’s tale. “But why would he do that? Why not collect all the gold and store it somewhere safe?”
The planchette moved, spelling out: I do not know; I was not there.
“Spirit, you don’t have to be rude! Please finish your tale,” Carrol said.
Okay, the spirit replied, and the planchette resumed its slow movement over the board.
For days and weeks and months, the farmer stayed by Black Francis’s side, barely eating, hardly sleeping, simply watching, waiting, digging, burying, hoarding every single drop of the golden dung. The farmer became consumed with paranoia, believing that everyone was out to get his gold, even his family. His dear wife, frightened and having lost all hope, took her teenage son and fled to her parents’.
The following evening the farmer sat beneath a grand old tree that stood in a corner of the yard. While trembling in his delirium, the man had a sudden and striking moment of clarity and he knew what he had to do. The time had come to claim his rightful fortune, to leave the farm and his family and start a new life where no one would bother him or try to take his riches. Surely there would be so much gold that he would never have to work another day in his life. His mind beamed with the prospect. So the farmer fetched his shovel and he began to dig.
All through the night the farmer dug for the gold he had buried and when the gray dawn broke, he still hadn’t found a single bit. Exhausted, he saw Black Francis leisurely chewing on grass in the early morning light. The farmer cursed the odd buck and went to the barn to get a length of rope with which to lead the goat back to the market and pass him on to another hapless fool. When the man returned with the rope, the goat was gone. The farmer searched the property and the neighboring farms but the goat was nowhere to be found. Flustered and enraged, the farmer returned home and did the only thing he could think to do: keep digging. And he dug and dug and dug until, after three days of non-stop digging, with his hands bloody and raw, he collapsed in the field and died. And there was never any gold to be found, not even one little bit. The end. Copyright 2020, Azazel Beelzebub Azaroth McAllister-Smith.
Carrol clutched her side and fell over laughing. “A goat that pooped gold! Ouija Boards say the craziest things!”
Henry’s eyes were wild with excitement. He panted.
“What is it, Henry?” Carrol asked.
“Gold!” Henry whispered.
“That was just a story, dear.”
“No, not just a story!” Henry snapped, “I know there’s gold here. I can feel it! Your magic board was actually telling a truth!”
Carrol sat up. She inched back, looking closely at Henry’s face. His features seemed to blur in the moonlight, as if shadows were gliding over him. Her breath hitched in her throat as a glint of red flared in his eyes.
“Henry, are you alright?”
Henry dug his fingers into the earth. “Gold!” He whispered again. He laughed to himself. “I’ll be rich!”
“What has come over you? Why are you…?”
Henry lept to his feet, cutting Carrol off. “There’s no time!” He shouted, adding, “I’ll call you tomorrow!”
He ran to the tool shed to get a shovel.
“Goodnight, then!” Carrol called out after Henry as he ran away. Then she packed up her Ouija Board and walked home.
Henry didn’t call the next day, or the next, or even the one after that. Filled with anxiety, Carrol went to Henry’s house. When she arrived, she found him wearing the same clothes she saw him in last, covered in dirt and sweat, digging in the yard. Small, shallow holes dotted the yard for as far as Carrol could see. She brought her hand to her mouth. Slowly, she approached.
“Henry,” she said, “what are you doing?”
He kept his eyes fixed on the earth and rammed the shovel down. “Digging. What else would I be doing?”
“Didn’t you go to work today?”
“This is my work,” he grumbled.
Carrol stepped closer. Softly, she ventured, “Why don’t you come inside and have a rest? I’ll fix you a cool glass of lemon pepper soda.”
Henry grunted and replied, “There’s no time for rest; I have to find it!”
“Find what, dear?”
“The gold!” Henry roared. He turned toward Carrol. His eyes burned a deep red. “Don’t you remember, you stupid bitch!?”
Tears flooded Carrols eyes. Henry is a kind man; he never speaks to me this way!
“The spirit of the magic board told me there’s gold buried right here and I know it’s true, I know the treasure is here- I know it!”
“Henry, the board, that was just a game!” Carrol sobbed.
“That wasn’t the game! This is the game- you and me! You’re playing me! You just want all the gold for yourself, you goddamn, lecherous cunt!” White foam and dry spittle flew out of Henry’s mouth. “I fucking hate you! I hate you I hate you I hate you!” He screamed. “You don’t care about me, you just want my gold! My gold!”
His face turned red. “Get out now or I’ll fucking rip out your entrails and ram them down your throat!” He raised the shovel and stepped toward Carrol.
She screamed, “Henry, please, I love you!”
“I hate you and I want to fucking kill you!” He howled.
Henry swung the shovel. Carrol lunged back. The shovel flew past her face, its tip nearly grazing her lips. She whirled, caught her balance, and sprinted across the yard. Henry slammed the shovel’s head on the ground over and over again, screeching curses and insults and horrible, unforgivable words that grew and towered and chased Carrol from the yard. Once she was out of sight, Henry returned to digging.
Carrol burst through the front door, startling her mother, father, and brother who were in the den playing a late-night game of Shark Versus Swimmer. Before her family had time to react, Carrol stood before them with her father’s revolver pressed under her chin. Her father cried out for her to stop, to please, God please put the gun down. She simply screamed, “Henry!” and pulled the trigger.
Blood, bone, and brain painted the ceiling and walls. Carrol’s parents and brother wailed. Her mother fell to the floor weeping. Her father and brother ran to Carrol’s fallen body. Her father cradled Carrol’s exploded head in his lap, calling out, “My Carrol, my dear sweet child!” over and over.
Carrol’s brother took the gun from his sister’s dead, still-warm fingers, and promised to bring vengeance down upon Henry’s house. With the cries and protests of his parents ringing in his ears, he ran into the night.
When Carrol’s brother arrived, Henry was digging beneath Al’s limbs, his shovel clanging against the giant roots of the great tree.
Carrol’s brother raised the gun at Henry. He shouted, “You monster! You broke Carrol’s heart and she took her life because of it!”
Henry looked up from his work. He smiled. “Carl, what are you doing with that little gun?”
“You’re the reason my sister is gone! It’s your fault!” Carl roared.
Tears blurred his vision. Carl pulled the trigger and the second bullet of the night hurled straight toward Henry’s head.
Henry spun and fell face-first into the dirt. Carl trembled. Sweat poured down his face. He’d just killed a man. His vengeance was complete, and since there was nothing more he could do, he turned the gun on himself. And Al, the great old tree, watched in distress as young Carl blew his own face off and fell to the ground.
For a long while, Al contemplated how a person so young could end their life in such a rash and sudden manner, especially when Carl hadn’t even completed his task. He had simply knocked his intended victim unconscious; the bullet that was meant to kill Henry was lodged painfully in Al’s trunk.
In pain and confused, Henry opened his eyes. The first rays of dawn were puncturing the dark canvas of night. He sat up and touched his face. A bloody gash ran the length of his right cheek. He thought back. He remembered: Carl, the gun, the shot. He tried to kill me. He missed! It was then that Henry noticed Carl’s corpse lying nearby in the grass. He giggled. His eyes flared red. I have to find my gold! I’ll clean that mess of a dead body up later.
Henry stumbled to his feet and started digging. A breeze blew and a leaf lilted onto his filthy shirt. Henry frowned at the leaf and shucked it off. Another leaf fell. He looked up into Al’s branches.
“Stop it,” Henry said to the tree.
Another leaf glided by on the wind. Clouds were gathering, blocking out the morning sun.
Henry stomped on the ground and glared at Al. “I said stop!”
A gust of wind blew a handful of leaves out of the limbs. They sailed past Henry.
“Stop mocking me!” Henry screamed. He flailed and slammed the shovelhead on the ground. He stared up at Al, the old and patient tree. Henry’s eyebrows curled. His chin dropped. “It’s you, isn’t it? You’re doing it; you’re hiding my gold! You’ve got it all under there, under those roots!”
Al’s branches swayed in the wind. Gray clouds turned black.
“You’re not going to do this to me. It’s my gold and you can’t have it!” Henry shouted.
Henry struck Al’s great roots with the shovel. He dug fiercely into the soil surrounding the base of the tree. It was no use; he could barely even break the ground. Henry cursed, threw down his shovel, and rushed to the shed. Moments later he was pushing a wheel barrel full of dynamite toward the tree while lightning and thunder filled the sky.
“You can’t have my gold!” Henry shouted. He tied the explosive sticks together and lined them around the base of the tree.
Al watched Henry with sad amusement. I suppose this is it for me, he thought.
The wind died down for the briefest of moments. Henry struck a match and put it to the fuse. The fuse lit and Henry stumbled away. Seconds later, a mammoth explosion shook the sky.
Shards of wood flew through the air. Al creaked and groaned. His mighty trunk faltered and snapped and a report echoed above the noise of cracking and breaking wood. Henry felt a sharp sting between his eyes. The sting was followed by liquid. The wet ran down Henry’s face. He grabbed at his head and, upon pulling away his hands, saw that they were covered in his own blood. He remembered the sound, the report. He looked up at Al. The great tree was falling straight toward him. “You shot me,” Henry mumbled.
A great and mighty limb struck Henry on the top of his head. Al put down his full weight and crushed the tiny human into the dirt. Ah, a satisfying conclusion to a glorious life, Al thought as his life-force slipped away and his spirit went back into the earth. And three counties over, as dark rain began to fall, a curious black goat grazed in a farmer’s field.