Hey-oh, it’s Thursday, which means it is now the fourth day of my writing week challenge, where I will post a new piece of fiction every day until Sunday! If you haven’t given me a prompt yet but want to, you can do so in the comments below or visit my Twitter/Facebook and leave a comment there!
This day’s story is 1,770 words. The prompt was “trees that listen”.
Let me know what you think about it and, of course, show the love by sharing!
Dedicated to Lauren.
No one round here cared for the O’Mearas. I and every other child grew up hearing stories about them. They were our town’s Bogeymen. When I was real young, sometimes I’d go to the hair salon where my mother worked to beg a dollar or two from her to buy candy. It didn’t matter the time of day or the woman sitting in Mom’s chair, I’d always hear them talking about what the O’Mearas were doing, how their orchard was fairing, and what local tragedy was being blamed on them currently.
The last bit was always said in a semi-joking manner. Drunk driving accidents, miscarriages, heart attacks were all attributed to the wraith of the O’Mearas. Whenever I was naughty, my mother would always scold me and tell me she would give me to them if I didn’t smarten up.
Needless to say, she wasn’t very happy when I told her I’d been dating Mitch O’Meara in secret for three years and that we had gotten engaged. But if her shock and disappointment were bad, it didn’t compare in the slightest to the rage of my father. He threw my clothes and belongings out onto the front yard and told me I could come back when I regained my senses.
Mitch picked me up and brought me back to the O’Meara farm. It was a sweet summer night and the smell of their apples filled the air as we drove down the driveway past the acres and acres of trees. I tried not to cry the whole way there.
Mitch’s mom didn’t seem surprised at what had happened. She just took a pile of clothes in her arms and helped Mitch and I put everything away in his room on the second floor. Most people in town thought she was a witch and, honestly, I couldn’t blame them. For one thing, her name was Mildred – one of the witchiest names out there – and since her husband died three years back, she wore only black.
It was at that funeral that I met Mitch. I’d seen him around town, of course, but not at school. I suppose Mildred home-schooled him to protect him from being bullied.
I worked part-time at the funeral home, doing secretarial work, and was there that day because my boss didn’t want to be around when the O’Maeras came by. In fact, no one had shown up for Monty O’Meara’s funeral except family. It broke my heart to see it so I’d gone out and offered them all my condolences.
Mitch had caught my eye immediately. He was so tall and had a quiet, solemn demeanour, but his smile, rare as it was, could make a whole room brighten. He didn’t ask me out then, he came back two weeks later with a bottle of the famous O’Maera cider – because though the town was eager enough to gossip about them, they also depended on the revenue brought in by tourists for the annual Apple Festival, of which the O’Maeras were the stars.
Seeing him standing there, in the doorway of the funeral home, his shadow dark across my face, I felt a thrill of fear and the tales of the O’Maeras’ witchery flew by in my mind. I don’t know how I said yes that day, but I did and we went out, and we fell in love.
And now we would get married, one month from the day my father threw me out.
The O’Maeras were once a large family, but now the only ones left were Mildred, Mitch, and Mitch’s two brothers; Maxwell and Maury: twins. And me, I suppose. The farmhouse was large, meant for a big family, so the lack of one cause it to be full of echoes and shadows. Especially with the twins gone out to the next town over to deliver cider.
As I lay next to Mitch in his dark bedroom, I couldn’t sleep and my treacherous brain teased up every single tale I’d heard about the family I was now going to be a part of. The house creaked and a sharp night wind whistled through the attic, clearly audible in the sleep-wrapped home.
The O’Maeras were one of the founding families, here since the town’s establishment in the 1800s. They had always prospered, even when the rest of the town fell on hard times. Because of this, resentment grew among the rest and ever after festered.
Then, in the 60s, the mayor of the town tried to get more money from the O’Maeras, threatening to run them out of town if they wouldn’t pay the outrageous taxes. The next day, he was found dead at his desk. A heart attack, they said but didn’t believe.
The next incident happened in the 80s, when some men from town cornered Molly O’Maera on her way home from delivering cider to a wedding. The O’Maeras didn’t press charges. They didn’t have to. All five men happened to fall into the Swan River two days later and, despite the river being only two feet deep, all five drowned. That’s when the rumours began in earnest. That’s when everyone in town began to fear the O’Maeras.
I fell asleep uneasily.
I was helping Mildred put laundry out on the lines when my father raced up the drive in his pickup. He stopped so suddenly that he sent up a spray of gravel and left the engine idling, jumping out and rushing over to me where I stood, arms full of wet sheets.
“Get in the car, Mallory.”
I didn’t know what to say but Mildred stepped up behind me and crossed her arms. He ignored her and raised his voice, his face turning that vibrant crimson that usually proceeded a closed fist.
“Don’t make me say it again, girl!”
“Get off our land, Mr. Shaw,” Mitch had come round the back of the house, still holding the axe he’d been using to chop wood.
“You ain’t marrying my girl, you sonuvabitch!”
My father took a step towards me, both hands clenched into red fists, but he froze. Around me stepped Mildred, holding a small knife she must have pulled from her apron.
“Off with you now and there won’t be any trouble,” the old widow said, her back straight and head held high.
“You fucking witch!” said my father, spitting at her feet.
He shot one last glare at me and it was then I knew this wasn’t the end of it.
My father came again that night, with four of his drinking buddies. Mitch heard them pull up and jumped out of bed, as serene as ever. Outside, the engine of my father’s pickup truck roared. I ran to the window and saw them piling out. I saw my father with his shotgun.
I turned, but he was already gone. I chased after him and Mildred was in the hall. She gripped my arm, she had a surprising strength, and so I couldn’t tear free to find him, the love of my life. I looked at her. I wanted to scream at her, hit her, anything to make her let me go. She was crying.
I guess we both knew. We both knew what would happen next.
Downstairs, I listened to the front door open. I heard my father’s voice, his words slurred. His friends hooted and hollered. I couldn’t hear Mitch. He had always been so soft-spoken. I didn’t get to hear what his last words were.
The shotgun bellowed – an audio nightmare that bounced off the walls and rose up to the second floor where we stood still as mice. The night went silent.
“Jesus, Roger, what the hell did you do?”
“I thought we was just gonna scare him!”
A pause. I imagined them pissing themselves, looking about, searching for the curse that would strike them down. Then the truck revved and they fled.
Mildred and I descended the stairs together, holding hands. I could barely see through the tears. The front door was still open, the porch light on. Mitch had been thrown back by the force of the shot so that he lay half in the house, half out, his arms and legs akimbo. The only blessing was that my father had missed his face. The blast had gotten him in the throat and shoulders, reducing both to a chunky, crimson mash.
My knees shook and I began to sink down. Only the iron grasp of old widow Mildred kept me standing. She guided me around Mitch’s body and out into the cool night. I shivered in my thin nightgown and began to sob earnestly.
“We have to call the police, Mildred, we have to call a doctor,” I begged, knowing neither would help.
Mildred said nothing. I thought she must have lost her mind upon witnessing her eldest son’s body. She led me away from the house and into the deeper darkness that dwelt beneath the apple trees. Twigs and stones pricked my bare feet and I stumbled over the uneven ground.
She brought us three rows in before she stopped. Before us grew a beautiful tree, whose boughs were heavy with fruit. Tenderly, Mildred brought my hand that she held to her lips and kissed the back of it. I felt the warmth of her tears on my skin. Then she placed my hand against the trunk of the tree under which we stood.
“Mildred, I am so sorry. I am so sorry!” I gasped between my words, my chest constricting, my throat thick with the tears that ran freely and hot down my cheeks.
“We O’Maeras will claim our reckoning. Speak, Mallory, speak the names of those who wronged us.”
“Speak. The trees are listening. They have always listened to us. Speak, child.”
I looked into the widow’s eyes and saw she was completely sane. I remembered each and every tale I had heard about the family that lived in the apple orchard that always flourished and never saw blight.
“I’m – I’m not an O’Maera, Mildred. I – ”
She stopped me with a soft touch and a heartbreaking smile. The old woman put a hand on my belly. I shivered. I hadn’t even told Mitch yet. I’d only just found out myself a week ago. I searched her face and found only love. Love and something deeper, something as strong and hard as steel. I nodded and turned, taking a step forward. I bent my head forward and pressed my forehead against bark as smooth as skin.
With one hand, I reached above my head and gripped a branch. The other I placed over top Mildred’s, which rested on my belly still. Then I took a deep breath and in a slow whisper, as hallowed as a prayer, I recited the names of my father, and of each one of his friends.
As always, let me know what you think and make sure to check in again tomorrow!
x P.L. McMillan