March 17, 1989
I, Zorah Thaxton, was currently running for my life.
The man who killed my father, my mother, and both of my siblings was about five yards behind me and I needed at least five hundred yards until I reached the village.
Coming home from my daily trip to the farmer’s market to collect half a dozen eggs for Ma’s brownie platter, I did not expect to find all four of my family members with slit necks covered in a pool of their own scarlett blood.
It was Amaury’s twenty first birthday and Ma and Pa had been saving up for the farmer’s dozen for two months. It was five dollars over the regular price of the four egg carton, but my brother was the golden child, no doubt.
With a shallow wage of just five dollars an hour, it was a miracle my folks could pay the rent every month. Then again, the landlord was Marcus Kingsly, a close friend of my Pa’s. He was flexible and was willing to let down the cost of living there as far as he wished.
It was a small house in a clearing of woods, a little ways out of town. With scratched robin’s egg blue paint and faded white-gray shutters, you could potentially call my house a perfect cottage home.
But it wasn’t. Not a home. Not to me.
“Get over here, peasant!” The man spat. He lunged again and missed…again. I was starting to think I could get away. Run into the town. Scream for help. I knew plenty of kind villagers who would save me from this madness. I just had to make it past The Distort Tree. It was a severely twisted tree with a split halfway up, which made for a really cool hang out. A few centuries ago, it was used as a hanging tree on the outskirts of town. There was a certain melancholy aura about it, but I never would’ve guessed anyone died there. It seemed more like a heartbroken sorrow than “a whole bunch of people had their necks snapped here” feeling.
Anyways, I was about fifty feet from the tree and could already see the smoke from the carpenter’s chimney, the building closest to my house. I really could make it. Or I could have, at least, that is before Jax Hawkins caught my eye from our hangout in The Distort Tree and hopped into my path.
December 28, 1983
“Ya really think that tomater will grow, huh, youngin? Well, I’ll tell ya this. E'ry centimeter it grows, I’ll give ya a dollar.”
My eyes perked at the thought. A whole dollar? That could pay for Minny’s medicine!
“I’m telling you, miss, I’ll get that tomato growing.” I beamed with pride and defiance, and picked up my pot of soil. The seed was small, and was burnt when Miss Cester fried the tomato for her salad. She said if I could make it grow, I’d get paid.
“Mhmm…” Miss Cester snorted. “G’luck to ya, then. Now scram, get outta my sight.” She tussled my shoulder length hair playfully. I hopped up and rushed over to the well, where Mister Johnny, the mechanic of the town, assembled a pulley system for the water down below.
Mister Maddox, Miss Cester’s former husband, was in charge of watching over the water supply.
“One sip please, sir.” I cupped my hands. He grunted a hello and splashed my hands with cold water till they were full. Quickly, so that the water didn’t slip through my fingers, I slurped it up, feeling the cold rush go down my throat.
I patted my pockets with my free hand, and my relieved, quenched smile dropped. “Uh, sir…I-I can’t find my dime-”
Mister Maddox leaned down so that he was level with me. I squeezed my thumb inside the ball of my hand, which Ma told me was a subconscious action of insecurity and dread.
What would Mister Maddox do? You had to pay ten cents for a cup of water, everyone knew that. I gulped.
“Carry on, Zorah,” Mister Maddox threw a wink at me, so unexpected I almost fell over from the jolt. “But just this once, okay?”
Clearing my throat, I nodded, giving him a grateful smile, and I skipped past the carpenter’s house to find my path back.
“I saw what he did to you,” A voice interrupted. “He hasn’t done that to anyone. Given water for free, I mean.”
I halted, turning toward the voice. There was a boy a little older than I, up in a tree. A horribly nasty, twisty tree. Having nothing to say, but being drawn to his mysteriousness, I tried to start a conversation.
“Hello. I’m Zorah. What’s your name?” I couldn’t tell if the boy was threatening or just stopping me to talk. There was something off about his tone.
March 17, 1989
I yelled for him to move. He must not have heard me, for he didn’t. Coming up on him, when he still refused to get out of my path despite the natural fear in my eyes and the sight of the killer I was fleeing from, that’s when I started to cry. Before then, the look of horror inscribed on my mother’s dead face, the panic of the man hiding in the bushes outside of my house, everything, -it just didn’t shock me. I felt nothing. Like I was in a dream. It must’ve been denial. Or maybe they just weren’t a family to me.
December 28, 1983
“Jax? “What’s your family name? Who’s your folks?”
He looked down at something in his lap. As I peered closer, I realized it was a small army knife.
He chuckled. “I’ve got none. Just this tree.” He patted the trunk. He followed my gaze and stared down. “It’s just a knife.” He whispered. His soft, harmless expression hardened. “It’s just a knife!” He shouted, whipping his head around to glare at me. I yelped and raced down the dirt path toward my cottage, not looking back at the strange boy.
March 17, 1989
I was in normal talking distance and Jax still hadn’t moved. Instead a confused look sat on his face.
What was there to be confused about? I shrieked in my mind and realized; Jax will help me. Two against one. We outnumber him. So as soon as I was a yard away, I jumped into his arms.
December 29, 1983
“Zorah, was it?”
I grimaced, not looking up at the boy in the hideous tree, but paused to let him ask for forgiveness.
“Hey, I just want to apologize. I really wasn’t myself yesterday, I’m-I’m sorry. The knife was my father’s. He left me, the same as my mother did, when I was born. I was kind of raised by generous people here, but I had to look out for myself forever. This tree’s saved me from a few things. I sleep here, eat here, live here. You get the point.”
There was some silence. “Was that all?” I asked, needing to go into town for medicine. Miss Crester’s plant was rising out of the soil a few inches. How it did overnight, I have no idea.
“Uh, I guess. Will I be seeing you around? Will you come up in my tree with me? I don’t have many visitors.”
“Tell you what, Tree Boy,” I gave him a look; part annoyance, part sarcasm. “If you’re still here when I come back, I’ll think about it. It’s not like I have anyone my age who wants to play with me either.”
He grinned. “I’ll clean things up right now.”
March 17, 1989
“Woah, Z, what’s going on? Why are you crying?” He caught me, and I was glad he did, because I would have fallen into the earth and suffocated.
“Man…my-my family…ran as fast as I could, but…” And then my heart stopped beating and everything went dark.
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