Tree of Life
I know there is a God. That is why I’m here. That is why the rivers flow and the seasons change. That is why there is life.
But what is life without a will to live?
I once had a will, I really did. A very strong will at that, too. I was happy with my family and the peaceful life we had. Sure, the house was a bit secluded from the rest of the neighborhood, but that gave my brother and me space to run around and play. We had the entire forest behind the house as our personal backyard.
The only thing that made me unhappy was the way Father never smiled. He would never look at my brother or me with love or adoration. Instead, he shut himself in his study and only opened the door to use the bathroom or get food. He always seemed to be in a rush to return to his research. Mother acted like she didn’t mind, but she always seemed to turn around and focus on something else when she saw him.
One time, my brother stepped in front of Father and asked if he would play with us, but he only paused to lightly push the boy aside before continuing on to his study. We weren’t even eight yet, so of course, my brother cried. I held my breath and fought back my own tears, trying to appear fine while Mother rushed to my brother’s side. My throat never hurt so much.
We kept up this lifestyle until my brother and I were eleven. One sunny day, we were playing war behind the house when I saw Father quickly pacing into the woods with papers and a shovel in his hands. It reminded me of treasure hunting, and I convinced my brother that Father was holding a map to go dig up treasure. We hurried to follow him, but kept as quiet as we could while trailing at a distance. It was almost two hours later when Father finally stopped, but neither my brother nor I complained. We didn’t dare say a word to give ourselves away.
We watched as Father used his shovel to hack away at a cluster of thorny bushes, each plant nearly as tall as himself. It was already evening, so I was hungry, and I’m sure my brother was as well, but we said nothing. Instead, we observed Father’s work for another hour before drifting to sleep behind some bushes.
An earthquake woke me up. As the ground I was lying on shook, cries rang out all around me. The leaves’ rustling, the birds’ flapping and shrieking, Father’s echoing scream of surprise. At that, my brother woke up, and together we peered over the bushes to see a gaping hole in the earth amidst a cluster of thorny bushes.
In a moment of panic, we rushed over to the hole to see that it wasn’t very deep at all. In fact, it looked more like a tunnel just large enough for a grown man to crawl through. Exchanging a glance, we hopped down and started crawling together.
After a bit of crawling, the tunnel widened, and we could stand with a little space above our heads. It was almost pitch black at this point, so my brother and I held hands and walked on. I was beginning to think that Mother was worried sick since we’ve never missed dinner before, but this was too interesting to turn back from. Mother was a forgiving person, so a simple apology would do it.
I don’t remember how long we walked, and I have no idea how far, but I do remember seriously contemplating whether to turn back or not. Who knew how far this tunnel went? What if we got stuck? What if there were rats? I said nothing to my brother, and he said nothing in return. We eventually began to see again, and my fears were dispelled. There was light somewhere.
The tunnel opened up into a large room with a very high ceiling. I looked up in amazement since I didn’t know that we had walked at a downward slope; I had thought that the tunnel was perfectly level. No wonder we had to walk so much. The room was empty except for a tall, old tree in the center. The thick roots that covered the ground around it almost looked as if they were woven to form a floor. Father stood on the roots, gazing up at the tree.
“The Tree of Life. I’ve finally found it!” Father yelled out in delight. He laughed, tossing aside the papers and the shovel. Then, he hugged the tree with passion I’ve never seen him express before. How I’d always yearned to be loved so straightforwardly like that by Father! If he couldn’t even hold in his affection for this tree, that means he loved it much more than he did us. Tears streaked down my cheeks, and my brother looked at me in concern. He hugged me, just the way I wanted to be hugged. Tightly, affectionately, and comfortingly. I was so moved, I cried even more.
We soon pulled apart, and I mouthed a thank you to my brother. He smiled in response, turning to watch Father again. Father was taking something out of the pocket of his coat, but I couldn’t tell what it was from that distance. From the way my brother was squinting, I was sure he couldn’t, either. It looked like Father was sticking the object onto the tree before pressing a button on the device. A whirring sound traveled throughout the expanse of the room. When it stopped, Father removed it from the tree and, with his back to us, brought it to his face. All of a sudden his head tilted back, and I realized that he was drinking from it. Sap? I wondered.
I turned to my brother, only to see a shocked expression on his face. Snapping my head back towards Father, I narrowed my eyes at the sight. He was glowing a light blue color.
Father looked at both his hands, turning them over and spinning around himself. He laughed, danced, jumped for joy. I couldn’t understand why. I still don’t understand.
Mid-laugh, Father suddenly stopped. He stood there for a while, then slowly turned until he was facing the tunnel entrance, the very place where my brother and I were standing.
Father roared. He stalked over to us with eyes full of hatred. There was a killing intent in the air. Terrified, we turned and ran the other way. The footsteps pounding behind us made it clear that Father was chasing, but my brother and I were smaller, younger, and faster. With our adrenaline pumping, we produced enough energy to make it out of the tunnel and run far into the forest ahead of Father. We were completely lost, however, so I told my brother not to run too much. Otherwise, we could end up making a big circle and running into Father again. The house was out of the question since we had no time to look for it. We spent the night under the umbrella of a tree.
Morning came, and my brother and I were still fine. We decided to look for the house that day, considering the fact that we had already missed our last meal and didn’t know how to hunt. It took us most of the morning, but by noon, we were already running up the back steps. We didn’t even need to knock since the door was unlocked. Mother must have left it that way all night, waiting for our return. Although that was dangerous, I felt touched. I wanted to find her to give her my apologies and thanks, but I was interrupted while walking out of the kitchen by a loud crash upstairs. My brother and I rushed up to Mother’s room to see her on the floor, bleeding in front of Father. He turned to us and sneered.
Being children, my brother and I couldn’t do anything against Father as he bound us to the bedframe with rope. With a knife at my brother’s throat, he smirked at Mother.
“Let me ask you again: Where’s the money you've been hiding?”
Mother didn’t reply right away, so Father let the knife pierce my brother’s neck. My brother whimpered in pain and fear.
“It’s all inside the encyclopedias in the living room. Shake them, and the bills will fall right out,” Mother said in a resigned voice. She looked like she had completely given up on life. At this, I cried my loudest.
“Shut up,” Father commanded me. Foolishly, I ignored him and continued to wail. As Father made his way to me, Mother looked around her, searching for something. Each distracted my attention from the other, Father raising his hand in preparation to slap me and Mother holding a trashcan behind him. Just as he swung, Mother placed the trashcan over his head and pulled, causing Father to jerk back and miss my cheek by a few inches. He fell hard on his back, groaning while Mother took his knife and stabbed Father in the chest. Moments later, Father ceased to breathe.
Mother hurried to untie my brother, then me, whispering words of comfort that didn’t seem to do any good. I had just watched Father die, yet I didn’t feel much sadness at all. Perhaps it was because we were never close, or perhaps it was because this man was not Father. Even when he seemed irritated, Father had never treated us roughly. He had never raised his voice or used violence. This was someone with Father’s memories, but not Father himself.
Mother was still whispering to us, telling us that everything was going to be okay, when she collapsed to the ground holding her head and stomach, dizzy and in pain. My brother and I stared at each other with eyes wide open, but we were frozen in place. We didn't know what to do. Soon enough, Mother also stopped breathing. At that, my brother and I finally remembered how to move. We shook her, hard, crying and yelling for her to open her eyes, to say something with her soft voice that used to lull me to sleep at night. I even begged her to scold and punish us for not coming home for dinner and worrying her. I didn’t realize at the time that she had lost too much blood. Now, I know that Father had killed her. Intentionally or not, my brother and I were alone.
We decided to carry the bodies to the backyard and bury them properly ourselves. By nightfall, there were two graves, side by side, surrounded by decorative rocks that spelled out FATHER and MOTHER. For the next few days, my brother and I stayed at the house. We didn’t go to school, and we didn’t go to the forest. It was our mourning period.
I didn’t want to find out why Father had changed so much. It must have been the blue light that enveloped him in that underground room, but I didn’t want to know what it was. Then, I realized something horrible.
The hole was still there.
Anyone could find it. Anyone could find that tree. Anyone could turn into an inhumane being who only cared about worldly things like money, without any concern for their loved ones.
I didn’t want that to happen.
I told my brother my theory about the tree destroying Father’s human feelings and making him only care about himself. My brother listened carefully while I told him of my plan to fill the hole up and hide it from the rest of the world. He asked me if it would be better to get rid of the tree itself, but I said no. I didn’t want anyone getting near that tree again.
The next day, I woke up to find my brother gone. I thought he might be getting a head start on the hole-filling operation, so I took my time getting ready. With a shovel and a picnic basket, I set off to join him.
It took some time to find the hole again, but I got worried when I didn’t see my brother there. I thought he couldn’t find it and got himself lost. Confident that he would eventually find the place, I began filling the hole. A few scoops in, a scream stopped me cold.
“STOP!” the voice yelled out from the hole I was filling.
I called out my brother’s name in confusion. I thought he was lost, but he could have been filling the hole from within. He might also have been causing the tunnel to collapse to save time and effort. However, all those guesses were wrong.
My brother crawled out and glared at me pure hatred.
“What do you think you’re doing? You wanna kill me!?” he demanded.
I looked at him in horror, backing up as he advanced towards me. Soon, my back hit a tree, and I had nowhere to run. I held my shovel up in front of me and closed my eyes. If he had drunk from the tree, there was only one thing to do.
My vision blurred with tears as I swung the shovel into the side of my brother’s head. He fell to the ground with a thud but soon moved to stand. I hit him again. And again. I hit him until his skull was cracked open. Using the shovel, I pushed his body into the hole and covered it with soil, glad that my vision was impaired at the time. I didn’t stop filling or crying until there was no more hole.
This is my story. It is the only story I will have. In my world, only I exist. I want to face God and ask Him why he created such an evil tree. This is my mission. I will accomplish it today. Goodbye, worldly humans.
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