Grueberfest 09 R.2 - PetrifiedSubmitted by Ducky at 2009-10-13 01:14:07 EDT
Rating: 2.0 on 39 ratings (39 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
“…because there’s nothing strange about an axe with bloodstains in the barn…there’s always some killing you’ve got to do around the farm”
Murder in the Red Barn
Searing pain ran up Michael’s arm with each swing of the heavy mallet. Inwardly he thanked himself that the stopper was rubber and not steel, otherwise the shock vibration of each hit would have been worse. The ground was frozen solid and each swing drove the stake no more than a centimeter deeper in. Once the sign was far enough into the ground, a large and gaudy fluorescent orange thing that simply read “For Sale” with a contact number written beneath it, he threw the mallet into the back of his pick-up.
He’d had enough.
He’d purchased the property over fifteen years ago and moved into it with his wife June. It was their intention to start a family and live off of the land, but due to several mitigating circumstances, they only lasted there for two years. June couldn’t get pregnant, and this inability to procreate sent her spiraling into a depression that she never seemed able to come out of. This, doubled with what she perceived to be “paranormal activity” on the farm, was enough to make her crazy. He on the other hand, was more of a realist. Shaking furniture could be attributed to many different things…slight tremors, heavy footsteps, whatever. He had told her several times that the noise the loons made as they called out over the lake could be mistaken for crying, as could various animal calls. The man’s voice screaming the name Emma was only the wind. June also felt uneasy down by the lake…every time she walked down there she felt drawn to a grove of cedars that grew close to the shore. That she felt compelled to walk towards them made chills run up the back of her spine, and subsequently had the opposite effect, repelling her back towards the house. He told her she was being irrational.
She didn’t buy it, and in an effort to save their marriage he had decided to rent out the property and relocate elsewhere with his wife. Less than a month after the move she was pregnant and happy.
In the last 13 years, the farm had changed tenants 11 different times…sometimes the renters would be kind enough to give notice, but other times he would show up to collect the rent and find the place abandoned. Sometimes the tenants would just up and leave in the middle of the night…sometimes they wouldn’t even bother to pack.
He’d heard the stories. But wasn’t that all they were at the end of the day? Just stories? One couple explained to him that they were unable to make love in the cabin because every time they tried to they would hear a woman howling. Another renter, a single middle aged gentleman reported that every time he burned his dinner or in some other way spoiled his food, the cabinet across the room would shake violently like someone had been thrown against it. One time it shook so badly the glass in the doors smashed. The last couple though…their reason was the strangest. That couple, they left because on a ride down to the lake in the middle of winter they came across an old cedar tree that didn’t sit well with them. With four feet of snow on the ground and frost and ice covering everything in sight, this tree stood bare. They told him that when they got close to it they could feel heat radiating off of it, and that when they took a good look at it, it seemed to be petrified. It didn’t make any sense, but the kicker was that in the middle of a blisteringly cold winter, this warm petrified tree was oozing red sap from it that didn’t look much like sap at all.
Sick of the crazy bullshit, he decided to sell and be done with it.
Half a century ago…
Emma had married Jake when she was barely 18, as was customary in those days. He had been 7 years her senior, a mere trifle of difference when she considered her other friends, some of them marrying men more than 20 years older than themselves. He had been a perfect gentleman during the courting phase, and even a few years into their marriage, she marveled at how lucky she was to have such a loving husband. He would spend long days working on their farm...35 acres without a farmhand meant very little downtime. They kept cows, chickens, sheep and hogs – from bucking hay to irrigating to calving, there was always something to be done. She had been a dutiful wife. Waking before dawn each day, she’d make sure to have the woodstove lit and stoked; she’d also have buckets of water pulled from the spring on the right hand side of their house, coffee and breakfast ready, and his clothes clean and pressed. While he worked she tended to duties close to home, and made sure to have dinner ready for him when he arrived at the end of each day.
If she had spare time, she would pack a light lunch for herself, mount her saddle pony, and ride down to the lake. There was a particular place she would go where a grove of giant ancient cedars grew close to the shore. The first time she’d been down there, she had walked around each tree, running her hands over the rough bark, until she found one she liked more than the rest. While all of the other trees had debris littered around their bases, this particular tree had none. There were no cones or buds growing from it. While the others seeded, this tree produced nothing. It was almost intimate, the way she ran her hands over its bark, almost as though she was gently caressing someone’s skin. On one side of the tree, she could discern…though faintly…a woman’s name. Upon closer inspection, she found others – scores of names that had been carefully inscribed into the bark. She pulled out her pocket knife, and the tree allowed itself to be branded with her name as well. She could spend hours watching the squirrels running up and down the tree - storing food in the hollows for winter and chitting at her when they thought she was too close. She’d listen to the loons call out over the lake, and enjoy the way the breeze played across her skin as it brought the hayfield to life. The solitude was magical. She could yell at the top of her lungs to the mountain across the water just to hear it yell back to her without ever worrying about bothering anyone. Sometimes she’d just lie on her back under the shade of her favourite tree and enjoy being alive.
Jake wanted children. Emma also wanted children. Try as they might, it never happened. As years waned on, Jake became increasingly frustrated in his efforts to impregnate his wife. This marked the beginning of an onslaught of emotional, mental, and physical abuse that would last for decades. It was mentioned only once that Jake might have been the problem…in what started as Emma speculating in a hushed tone ended with her tending to a busted lip he had driven three of her teeth through.
She continued to be a dutiful wife, but the labour and chores that once garnered her praise and affection were no longer adequate. She couldn’t please him to save her own life. The food was too hot or too cold…the stains weren’t well enough removed from his shirt…the water had too much silt in it…the coffee tasted like it had been reheated from yesterday. It didn’t matter- something always set him off. Sometimes he would rape her mercilessly until blood streamed down her legs, all the while berating her for being barren and useless. Other times he would use her as a human punching bag – the main target predominantly her stomach, which ‘wasn’t good for much else’, followed by her face. When he was feeling really energetic he would throw her around the room like a rag doll and criticize her while forcing her to clean up the damage ‘she’ had caused.
Decades. It will break a person.
Emma would remove herself from the cabin more and more frequently, finding solace under the branches of her tree. She had become a mere skeleton of the woman who had carved her name there so many years ago. One afternoon, as she lay underneath it, a thick drop of sap fell and splattered against her cheek. Before she could wipe it away, it had absorbed into her skin. Her face, which for years had held no colour, flushed with life. Feeling a renewed sense of strength growing within her, a rictus smile crept across her face.
Jake began to spend longer hours working in the field so that he wouldn’t have to see the woman who he’d come to loathe so much. Emma spent longer hours down by the ancient cedars, though she seldom found time to eat the lunch she’d pack. Now when she went, it wasn’t for the squirrels, loons or even for the breeze. Now when she went, she would bring a step ladder, chisel, and length of marked up rope from the tack house to keep her occupied.
On her 47th birthday, an occasion that Jake had long since stopped recognizing, she treated herself to a present.
When he came home from work that day, she wasn’t there. It was strange but not unheard of, and as dinner was waiting for him on the stove he wasn’t in any great rush to see her anyways. When he finished eating, he began to drink, and after a couple of those he checked the time. 8pm. It was 8pm and she still wasn’t there. She’d never been out this late before. The light was waning and he knew he should go and look for her but the bottle was tempting and he took a few more swigs from it before angrily putting on his coat and heading outside, kerosene lantern in one hand, booze in the other.
“Emma!!! Where are you y’old cow??!!!!”
“EEEMMMMMMMMMMMAAAAAA” he howled, cursing his under his breath and staggering slightly over the uneven ground in the pasture. His rage grew each time his step faltered. It was her fault he was out here stumbling around in the dark. In his mind he pictured the lesson he’d be teaching her later on…it was like beating a dog repeatedly until it learned its role as a dog…but for some reason his fucking dog never seemed to be able to learn anything. His stupid, barren bitch.
He managed to spook the livestock, but there was no response otherwise. Spending well over an hour outside, periodically calling her name, he decided to head home. He’d scoured parts of the property, but 35 acres is a lot to cover on foot, and he hadn’t even made it halfway to the spot he knew she loved the most. As he approached the tack house en route to the comfort of his home, the low light of the lantern picked up something on the door, and as he approached it he discerned that it was a note. It wouldn’t have mattered if Jake had finished the entire bottle prior to reading the contents – he still would have been able to make out the three simple words that filled the page.
I HATE YOU.
With a deafening CRACK, the glass from his lantern shattered as the close range blast ripped through it and into his stomach. The close range shot sent him flying backwards where he landed roughly on the ground a couple of feet back. The last thing Jake saw in his life was his wife, standing over him, the barrel of the shotgun he had used so many times to kill injured livestock pointed directly at his face.
Emma dragged Jake’s body into the tack house and laid him out on a tarp. Picking up the woodcutting axe she had become so proficient with over the years, she smiled and proceeded to spend the next two blood soaked hours dismembering her husband. Finished, she reloaded the shotgun, placed the axe in a bucket, and returned the items to their usual place in the barn. Returning to the tack house, she wrapped Jake in the tarp and tied each end shut. After saddling up her horse, Emma attached a length of rope to the saddle horn and secured the other end to the tarp. At a quarter past midnight, body in tow, she rode down to the ancient cedars.
Waiting for her arrival was the step ladder that had gotten so much use as of late, the gouging tool she had used to dig out a hollow about 15 feet up the tree, and the length of rope she had fed into the opening at the end of each session to discern the depth and to mark her progress. Piece by piece, she packed Jakes body up the ladder and deposited him into the giant tree. The last thing to go was the tarp…she carefully lifted the edges to collect as much of the blood as possible, gathered it together in the middle, climbed to the top rung, and shoved it in. There was still some room remaining between the tarp and the opening, and this she packed tightly with the wood that had once belonged there. Returning to her horse, she removed a hammer and a few nails from the side pouch, and finished the job by carefully nailing a large chunk of wood over the opening. She was exhausted, and when she finally fell into her bed later that night, she slept soundly for the first time in her memory.
She spent the next day cleaning, and the day after that she was gone.
Michael thought about the tree for quite some time, and finally, curiosity getting the better of him, attached chains to the tires on his pickup truck and drove back to the farm. He’d had a couple of offers for the place, but nothing worth going for. Slowing down, he turned off the road and drove over the pasture to where this anomaly of a tree was supposed to be. It was close to the lake they’d said…he couldn’t miss it they said. He had only been down to the lake a handful of times, but remembered the cedars for their sheer size. He wanted some sort of explanation for all of the crap stories that he’d heard. He wanted something tangible that he could see for himself…something that couldn’t be explained away…then he’d believe it. He stopped his truck down by the massive trees…in front of one in particular.
They were right.
The massive hulk of a tree didn’t have a speck of snow on it. All of the surrounding trees were frozen in a mess of ice, frost, and snow, but to look at this one was to look at summer. Getting out of the truck, he walked over to the beast. It was radiating heat, and true to his last renters’ word, a strange type of red sap was oozing from it. It wasn’t slow moving like sap though - it was more diluted, almost like a sweat...a blood-like sweat. Pulling out a knife, he gave a hard tap into the bark.
Nothing. The thing was hard as a rock. Moving to the tree next to it, the same exercise produced a rough shaving of bark. “Jesus” he said as he looked back to the original tree. The fucking thing was petrified. Inspecting it, he made it halfway around the giant base and stopped short upon seeing a name etched into what used to be bark. Lifting his hand he traced over the rough letters with his fingers. EMMA. As he did, a searing pain developed in his hand. On instinct, he moved to retract it, but couldn’t. He heard a rustling sound behind him and turned his head to see a giant branch coming towards his back. The base of the tree itself made a loud cracking noise and the trunk ripped open like the seam of an over worn pair of jeans. The branch behind him forced him inside, and as the opening slowly began to re-stitch itself back together, Michael managed a formidable scream. It carried over the lake, hit the mountains, and laughed back at him. Blinding red light pulsed behind his paralyzed eyes. It felt like he had third degree burns covering his skin, which bubbled, charred, and solidified like granite before browning up like a roasted chicken. His feet had begun to solidify, and as the petrification process moved up his legs and towards his vital organs, all he could think about was June and how she’d been right all along.
It snowed all night that night. The police – two deputies and a sheriff, located Michael’s truck. The ground was saturated with blood…splattered everywhere, but there was no body. The deputies searched the area, but found themselves at a loss. Hearing the sheriff calling, they returned to the blood-soaked area to find him staring at the side of the tree.
“What was his wife’s name again?” asked the sheriff.
“June”, replied one of the deputies.
“Well aint that just the damndest thing…” said the sheriff.
There on the tree, freshly carved above Emma’s faded name, was June.
There were only the cedars – the group of silent witnesses, unable to bear testimony that one among them was now just a little bit fatter around the bottom, and a little bit healthier than it used to be.