Time with the cousins was always interesting, especially as I was the youngest and the only girl.

“If you don’t want us to think you’re lily-livered, you have to go over the gate and touch the tree,” said George.

“But, Grandpa said we mustn’t.” The sun had almost set, the shadows in the garden long.

“Chicken!” Jack laughed. “It’s not that scary.”

I pushed him and scrambled over the rusty gate, into the overgrown part of the garden and pelted towards the ancient tree. As I reached it my feet sank into the boggy ground which bubbled, emitting a foul stench. I fell forward, catching myself with my hands against the gnarled bark, which pulsed beneath my palms, like a heart pumped its sap through veins.

A shudder ran over my skin as the temperature plummeted, the air still and, somehow, expectant. I heard a creak above me. A burst of adrenaline urged me to run, but I stayed, rooted to the spot, hand still against the tree. I looked up to see a pair of legs, swaying in the non-existent breeze, and further to the purple, bloated face of a hanging man.

I shrieked, back-pedalling, and tripped over a root, landing heavily in the foul mud. Bramble snaked towards me, wrapped around my ankle and dragged me towards a dark, gaping maw amongst the roots. I screamed, squeezing my eyes shut as I flailed, not wanting to see.

A loud thud startled me back to my senses and Grandpa was there, wielding the axe he used for chopping firewood. He hacked at the bramble with one hand and pulled me to my feet with the other. We hobble-ran back to the gate to be met by the pale, terror-stricken faces of my cousins.

“It’s the Dule Tree,” said Grandpa, later, “Many men hung there over the years, the last of them a highwayman, Johnny Knox. He threatened death to any who approach. Over time, some have tried, most never came back.” He hugged me close. “You were very lucky, Clare,” he said, as I sobbed into his shoulder.

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Emily O'Leary
Emily O'Leary (@emily-oleary)
1 year ago

And here I had always trusted trees! A chilling piece that gives you such a vivid visual as you read!

Alan Kemister
Alan Kemister (@alan-kemister)
1 year ago

Great story. Grandpa was being a little melodramatic feeding into the little girl’s fears by chopping away at the bramble, but it powers the ‘scary’ ending. Had to look up dule tree, that was a new expression for me. One tiny point. Hanged is usually the past tense when it comes to hanging men.

Eric Radcliffe
Eric Radcliffe (@eric-radcliffe)
1 year ago

Hi Carrie, it’s amazing reading all the stories, so many different surprise endings, and styles to enjoy. I loved the picture of the tree you chose. When I saw it I thought what a spooky tree, it fitted your story beautifully. I enjoyed this story, and like Alan I too had not heard of a Dule Tree, so being educated as you read has to be a good thing.
By the way, being a Granddad I liked your idea of him being the Hero.

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Christer Norrlof
Christer Norrlof (@christer-norrlof)
1 year ago

You have educated several people with this story, Carrie. Here’s yet another one of your readers who had to google “dule tree”. Interesting! With the grandfather’s explanation, we also get an historical background to what it was like when the dule trees were being used for that specific purpose.
I also like it that you let the girl, and the youngest one, be the courageous child in your story.

musing mind
musing mind (@musing-mind)
1 year ago

Enjoyed reading your story and learnt something. Didn’t know anything about Dule trees, before I read your story.

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Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo (@lotchie-carmelo)
1 year ago

Honestly, I learned from it. I didn’t know about the Dule tree until I read your story, which teaches me about it. This story is very scary, yet very amazing. I am happy to read a story like this that amazed me at the end. I also love your style and your choice of a Dule tree. Thanks for sharing this one with us.

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