10
Jan
21

Writing Prompt: Tree

“The ground here is sour,” Ezekiel said, staring at the blackened earth beneath his feet. Surrounding him were the long-dead stumps of trees that had been cleared long before he’d come here. In front of him stood the sole survivor, a twisted looking oak that had only a dusting of leaves despite it being summer. Only one branch of any significance jutted out from it, the bark worn away in the middle as though something – or several somethings – had rubbed against it harshly for long hours.

He looked up, towards the three others in the clearing with him. Josiah and Abelforth, both members of his flock, stood on either side of Harold, their hands clamped on Harold’s wrists and elbows. Harold drooped lazily between them, blood running from his temple and dripping on the ground below. The ground drank of this offering with greed, leaving no trace it had ever fallen.

“Sour indeed. The Indians knew it. It’s why they cut all these trees down.”

Ezekiel moved to stand in front of the withered oak, laying one hand against the trunk and caressing it like a lover.

“But not you, old friend. Not you. You they left, and we thank God and all the saints for that, can you say ‘hallelujah’?”

Josiah and Abelforth both gave a murmured “hallelujah” in response. Harold remained silent.

“And you know why they left this one,” Ezekiel asked. He received no answer, but hadn’t expected one. He was sermonizing, and those who were in his flock knew his tone.

He knelt before the tree and picked up the coil of rope he’d laid there. His fingers began the work of knotting it, leaving a loop just slightly bigger than a man’s head and a strong slipknot. He rose, tossing the long end of the rope over that solitary branch. He was pleased when it landed perfectly on the worn spot. He’d been casting his rope there for a long time.

“Because the ground is also hungry. It is very hungry, brothers, and must be fed.”

He gestured to the others, and Josiah and Abelforth moved towards him, carrying Harold to a spot just beneath the dangling noose.

Ezekiel slipped the noose over Harold’s head, and cinched it against the man’s neck.

“Witness, and be not afraid.” With another gesture from Ezekiel, Josiah released Harold, letting Abelforth hold the man alone, and moved to grab hold of the long end of the rope. Putting force against it, he pulled it taut. Once he had the weight, Abelforth did the same.

“Now go, lost sheep. Feed the tree. Feed the earth. Feed the flock.”

Ezekiel pulled out a weathered hunting knife, and ran it across Harold’s neck. At the same time, with practiced motions, Abelforth and Josiah yanked, hoisting Harold into the air. Harold began to dance, gurgling and thrashing against the trunk of the tree as his blood rained down onto the ground below.

The miracle came quickly. Ezekiel’s weathered face was splattered with the lifeblood of his sacrifice, and the years were washed clean from it. Crow’s feet disappeared, rheumy eyes saw clear, and hair that had beginning to go white became a thick and lustrous black once again.

The tree, too, saw improvement; small branches began to burst forth on all sides, and fresh foliage bloomed. A rain of acorns dropped, pelting all three of the men below, and Ezekiel made note of where each landed. They would fetch them once it was done. Not for planting, of course; God, no. There must always be only one tree. The power of the sacrifice would be in them, though, and his flock was just as hungry as the ground.

In a few moments, it was over. Harold was no longer dancing, and no more blood ran from him. He was a limp doll swinging slightly in the breeze that had come up. Ezekiel nodded.

“Bring him down and bury him as the Good Book says. Then hurry to the church. Sacrament will be at noon.”

Josiah and Abelforth nodded, and began their work. Ezekiel paid them no mind. Instead he caressed the tree again, the old hangman’s tree that he had fed for over a hundred years.

“Sleep well, old friend. Another sacrifice soon.”


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