The tree twisted upon itself, forming large black knots, opening its sharp branches like stakes to the sky like a prayer. It was made of pure coal, black, as black as the shadow it produce and the night that rounded it. The wasteland was black, dark, the hill extended and nothing could grow in the damned soil, and what could was pure poison for the blood.
When the tree was still alive. The citizens of the little village were reunited at its feet to hang the witch; the limbs of the big and old Elder tree were stronger enough for the work. And she knew it. She had a white dress, as pure as milk, like her hair. When the rope hugged her neck, the flames started to burn until everything around them turned orange and all was consumed until becoming the dust of the earth itself.
From the ancient wood remained its dark memory.
This happened many years ago, so many it was impossible to forget. The town, at the other side of the hill, didn’t die that day, it continued growing. And they were scared of that black hole, of that terrible moorland. Even the most incredulous people knew that strange things used to happen around that oddly big elder tree. Children disappeared, swallowed by the earth, in the middle of the day, while at some hours of the night, a song could be heard. Neither animals nor insects would get close. Birds never dared to sit in its branches.
They tried to cut it down, believing that could be the way to end with the strange curse. But the ax would hit the trunk, the iron would produce sparks and the wood wouldn’t cut. They weren’t able to make a scratch on it.
Finally, around nineteen forties, it was decided to enclose it, to put a strong metal fence that would go around all those kilometers where the earth becomes black. They marked the place with huge warning signs that informed about the danger, and the locals made up a silly story about a lost bomb that fell in those mountains and that was still there somewhere, sleeping, underground.
Gerard was convinced that he was born under a bad symbol, a black star, o simply, that was marked on someone’s black list. He lived long years rounded of tragedies that never touched him. He was alone, he became temperamental and he had a bitter taste all the way to the core.
And, in the very deep, he got used to that.
He liked driving. Mostly when he could drive uninhabited paths. The loneliness and boring sensation that could invade some people, relaxed him, at least for a little while. At that moment, he was coming back to the big city by a tight and lone route that, he believed; only he knew about. The road was twisted and was longer than the others, no one liked to use it because it meant to be away from civilization for a long time. And it wasn’t a good idea to risk oneself to be without fuel or signal.
Nevertheless, like a second option, in some point of the way it hides the entry to a little, almost forgotten between the mountains, town. You could find there an old (and odd) combustible supply and an unused telephone line. It was told that its inhabitants where really polite people, that liked to aid lost travellers. Gerard had already seen the brown lights some times, at the distance, but he never has any interest on stop to pay a visit.
The adventures and misfortunes of its people wasn’t something of his care.
His car battery didn’t coincide with him and it decided to die in the middle of the journey. The vehicle kept moving forward thanks to inertia while the old man changed his expression to one a little more shadowy. The blinking light showed the sign that announced the name of the city. Oldwood. Such a charming name. It didn’t even sound original, it sounded like a bad copy of another city. A man came from the poorly lighted cubicle that sited on the entry of the city, through the glass it could be seen a little TV screen.
-Good night, sir- He tried to be polite. After hearing some complains, he tried to cheer up the night by calling a tow truck –Don’t you worry, this happens from time to time, we are used to it already. You can sleep the night here-
Once the tow truck (which was a normal truck improvised with a big metal hook) took the vehicle and the man, the policeman felt a little bit discouraged. He felt that knot in his guts; there was something in the eyes of that man that looked strange. He felt, strongly inside of him, that he had committed a terrible mistake.
The truck pulled the useless car and left it at the door of a repair garage. It would be repaired the next morning. In the meanwhile he could wait in the comfortable and economical guesthouse. The old man heard the indications and started walking. He didn’t care on walking around the picturesque and eccentric town, instead of that he decided he was too old and too tired to do so. The house assistant that waited behind her desk paled when she saw the slim, almost skeletal figure, but she tried to get the impression off of her head and offered him a pretty room with cable TV and a view to the mountains.
Obviously, neither the wasteland nor the tree could be seen from there. The city was organized so you couldn’t see that terrible place from any house. And the feared the day when the city grew enough that it became impossible to have more buildings fulfilling those conditions. In the meantime they preferred not to think about it.
Gerard ignored all the commodities. He took a shower and went to bed without dinner. Soon all the windows had its lights off and the town drown in a deep and troubling sleep.
The nightmares slipped down those hills.
Gerard woke up with the vision of tall flames licking the sky and circling him. The picture of all those faces that he didn’t know, but at the same time, they seemed so familiar. He turned to his side, adjusted his pillow; and that was when he started to hear the singing.
Let’s go, let’s go to play
Under the branches of the Elderwood tree
Let’s dance with naked feet
Over the roots of the old Elderwood tree.
Immediately he realized the voice wasn’t inside the building. Even though he was old, his ears worked better than the other’s, younger people; but he did have other problems, like lumbago and arteritis. He opened the window to hear well. He could hear the song coming down the street.
I’m waiting for you under the Elderwood tree
It gets so lonely here…
The assistant from the hotel didn’t bother to tell him not to wandering too far away or not to cross the metal fence. She would tell that to more active young people, but men as him were made to stay in bed. So Gerard left the place as easy as it was to enter; and soon he was walking up the frozen hill. He saw the fence some feet above and he saw that place where it was cut and opened.
He knew his bones were going to hurt while trying to pass through the hole, but he felt he had to do it.
Let’s go, let’s celebrate
Under the branches of the Eldest tree.
When it gives us its fruit
When no flowers remain
He felt the dry grass creak under his shoes, in front of him the wasteland looked as dark as the sky. But he didn’t need to see, he just needed to follow the voice that became stronger and cleared.
Let’s go, let’s round the tree
He felt the voice as familiar as his own. He walked down the sheer hillside, he tripped over without falling to the ground, and he continued to follow the call, mesmerized. Soon he felt the warmth of the wood, the deep breath of the burned soil and the fresh ashes. He extended his arm and touched the darkness until he felt the knots of the big and twisted being.
The wait is long
Under the Elderwood tree
He felt the flesh of the wood moving and opening, soon it became the light from the skeleton that was sleeping inside. The skull still had those long hair lock of the color of the milk, like his hair that had always been white and pure. And he touched her bones that shined under the moon and he realized that it wasn’t fate, only that he just had arrived to the right place.