By the Fruit it Bears

See Emily PlayThe clouds hung low, black as the shadows they cast upon the ground. Brimming radiance of the sun behind them promised a day of both bright and rain. The sort of contrast that would perplex a city dweller.
Edward, known as Eddie, hopscotched between the shadows from the sky. His feet were more used to skipping on stonier streets, but now they danced on fields of grass. And danced alone.
Eddie had become acquainted with entertaining himself since coming to the village of Pex with his father to stay with a relative, Aunt Vi. His mother was away at a sanatorium on a rest cure, though the actual nature of her illness was kept from him and only ever whispered about.
Being only a couple of years since the end of the war, many villages were short on young men. Pex was strangely more devoid of children, which left Eddie to spend his days imagining friends to share adventures. Though at home with his own company, he did secretly wish for that of another.
Aunt Vi, warned him not to stray from paths or go into the woods, but the trail he followed came to a forest and continued deep within it. He figured as long as he stuck to the path, he would not actually be stepping into the woods, just crossing through them.
Birds twittered in the canopy of leaves above as Eddie ventured deeper into the forest, enjoying the serene calm of the place. Then he reached a clearing and led straight though the gateway of an old church standing within its own grounds. It was little more than the size of a chapel, with cracked stain glass windows and a small spire crooked from years of disrepair.
The headstones of the graveyard that surrounded it were similarly neglected, slanted and hideous with moss. But what really caught Eddie’s eye was the enormous tree standing in a corner. The base of its huge bark sinewing with artery like roots sprouting from the earth into gnarled branches that reached outward and upwards, ascending into a jungle mass of browning leaves. It struck him as odd they should be turning already, being only July.
Approaching the tree, he was further intrigued by a pair of ropes hanging down from one of the branches. A wooden seat dangled from one of them with the air of a hangman’s noose and Eddie realised it was a broken swing. Even his ten year old mind perceived something distinctly odd about a child’s swing in a grave yard.
Standing directly below, he became aware of rustling up in the dry leafy branches and looked up. A boy’s face looking down, half hidden and peeking through a cluster of leaves, the one eye on show focused directly on him. It followed as he moved to get of view of the rest of the face which turned slightly more into the camouflage of leaves, remaining obscure.
‘Hello?’ he shouted, but the lone eye continued to stare. ‘What you doing up there?’
‘I live up here.’ The boy replied.
‘That’s silly. Who lives up trees?’
‘I told you, it’s my home.’
Eddie tried another gambit. ‘Something wrong with your face?’
‘Might be. Why don’t you come up and look?’
‘Come up there? How?’ He could see no way of scaling himself up.
‘Oi! What you doing there?’ Eddie turned to see an older man strutting in his direction, probably the groundsman from the way he was dressed. He approached with the words ‘who you talking to?’
He glanced back up but the boy was gone, and instinct told him not to say anything of this mysterious acquaintance. ‘No one, really. Just talking to the tree. It’s something I do. Having no friends, like.’
‘Well it could tell some tales, that tree. Dark tales. Been there centuries, even before this was Christian ground.’
‘What happened to the swing?’
He shook his head. ‘Bad business. Very bad.’ He pointed over to a gravestone and advised ‘You get yourself home, you hear?’ And then turned heels to head back in the direction of the church.
Eddie looked back up and there was still no sign of the boy. He could not have slipped down, leaving Eddie to surmise he must have retreated up among the camouflage of leaves and branches.
Turning his attention to the headstone, he slowly edged closer to it, stopping as soon as he could read the inscription. It belonged to one James Hawk, no older than he when death claimed him some seventy years earlier. But the significance was lost on Eddie.
He returned to what was presently termed home, just as Aunt Vi was serving tea and crumpets. His father sat by the fire, cradling a brandy as he watched the flame crackling.
‘So how was your day?’
Eddie shrugged his shoulders. ‘Okay. Got talking to a boy up a tree.’
‘Oh?’
‘Yea, in a churchyard.’
‘Would that be St. Ednoch’s?’ Aunt Vi interjected.
‘Yes. Seemed deserted, apart from a man there.’
‘That’ll be Joseph. He watches over the place. About the only one who goes there.’
‘What do you mean?’ his father queried.
‘No one has gone there for years. Doesn’t even have a rector.’
‘Well, if there is no congregation…’
‘It should be deconsecrated and burnt to the ground.’ She then turned to Eddie, adding ‘And don’t think you should go back there!’
‘Why? I may see that boy again. We were becoming friends.’
She cut the conversation short with a change of tact. ‘I was enquiring at the school in the next village today about you attending. You start next Monday. I was keeping it as a surprise.’
‘Oh… So we’re going to be here a while?’ His father nodded as the aunt smiled. ‘Yes, and you’ll make new friends. So forget about boys up trees. That’s not healthy.’
But Eddie could not forget the mysterious lad and he returned there on the following morning.
The tree was as silent and solemn as the previous day when Eddie approached it, passing the headstone Joseph had pointed out. Standing beneath, he looked up to find nothing but branches and leaves. Perhaps the old man had sent him packing.
But then the boy’s face revealed itself from behind a cluster of leaves. Or rather part of it as the rest remained hidden. A single eye stared down at Eddie.
‘You coming up this time?’
Eddie remained cautious but spoke back. ‘You been up there all night?’
‘Told you, this is my home. Come up and take a look. I can be your friend. You haven’t got any friends, have you.’ It was more a statement than question.
‘I will on Monday. I’m going to school.’
‘You won’t make friends there. They don’t like outsiders.’
‘Well, I usually good at making friends.’
‘They’ll taunt you about your mum.’
‘What do you know about my mum?’
‘She abandoned you for the bottle.’
Eddie shook his head in denial as the boy continued. ‘Sorry, but I think you should be told. I’m looking out for you, cos we’re friends see?’
‘Did someone tell you?’
‘No, I just see everything from up here. Come up and look for yourself.’
Eddie moved closer to the bark but was unable to identify any foot hold.
‘Use the rope,’ the boy suggested. ‘It’s what brought me up here.’
Carefully clasping the rope and bringing his knees up, he began to steadily push himself up. As he progressed, the half hidden face came closer enough to perceive a rim of scarred tissue bordering its secreted side. He paused and held his position.
‘What are you waiting for?’
‘What happened to your face?’
‘It’s a secret but get up here and I’ll share it with you.’
Suddenly his hips were grabbed and he was pulled downwards, a voice sounding ‘No further you stupid brat!’
With his feet hitting the ground, he was faced by an angry looking Joseph.
‘What you doing up there?’
‘I was going to join the boy.’
‘Those who climb that tree don’t always come down again!’
He gestured to the gate, ‘Now go and don’t come back here. This is no place for games.’
The old man began to walk away when Eddie shouted ‘Wait! That grave you pointed to me?’ He stopped and turned back with a curt ‘Yes?’
‘You said it was a bad business.’
Joseph pointed to the broken swing. ‘He was playing on it when it snapped. Threw him on the ground so fierce it ripped half his face away. Been left there ever since as a warning.’
Eddie shuddered at the implication. ‘Then I’ll stay away.’
‘If only others had.’ With that cryptic comment, the man left.
Eddie similarly took his leave, unaware he was being watched from within the leaves of the tree. Watched by the eyes of despairing child faces. Many faces.


					
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2 comments on “By the Fruit it Bears

  1. jeanjeanie3 says:

    Fabulous story Barry. I was enthralled from the beginning x

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