People call 'em fairy trees, or that's what I'd always heard – those huge old gnarly trees standing by themselves out in a field. Folks said they were meant to be boundary markers, or provide shade for livestock. Sure it's easy to put a reason to something, but why was it that particular tree that was chosen? Things can be true in more than one way. Just because something can be explained in a way we can understand, that doesn’t mean there can't be more to it. And who's to say that just because something doesn't have an explanation that we can swallow easy, that what we do think is wrong?
I never knew what fairies were supposed to have been doing way out here in the middle of our family fields, though. We'd made the land ours with blood, sweat and tears as much as with any slip of paper, generations back, but I don't know if the fairy tree was something planted, or grew up all its own, or if it'd been there longer than time. Whatever its origin, I'd never doubted its power.
When I came down sick, I got desperate, I tried everything. I prayed twice as hard at church, and put twice as much in the collection plate. The pastor tried to encourage me to make my peace with the world and ready myself for the Kingdom, but as I got worse, I just got angry at all that. I was a young man, not married yet, only one to tend what my folks had left. It felt more than unfair that all my opportunities were being snatched away. I got real upset, and I started looking for other solutions.
I don't know what brought me to the tree. I never paid much attention to superstition, so I didn't know what a fairy tree was supposed to be for. What I thought I knew was that fairies were just a face of the devil, and that this was a place of evil, and that if G-d wasn't going to help me that maybe I ought to turn somewhere else. I was real weak then already, so the hike out to the tree was tiring. Since I didn't have any other ideas when I got there, I lay down in the shade of it and took a nap.
I don't remember dreaming anything particular, but when I woke up, I had the idea to dig. The bones weren't deep down, but they were still a shock. I pulled them out and had a look, and just about put them back and left to face my fate. I didn't though. I wrapped them in a tarp and hauled them back up to the house. It took me a while, and I left them wrapped like that under the porch for three days until I felt better enough and strong enough to have another look. I was afraid the dogs or something else might have got into them, but nothing had touched the bundle.
It wasn't a whole body. Maybe I'd missed some when I dug it up, small things like the bones in the hands and feet, but I don't think that's where it all ever was. There was just the top part of the skull, the long bones – or most of them anyway – and the ribs. I'm no doctor or mortician or anything like that but they didn't look all the same to me. Not that they weren't all from the same body, they looked the right size, but some of them were more dirty or stained, and one of the big leg bones had something like moss growing on one end even though it had been buried deeper than the rest. I didn't know what to make of it, except that someone had gathered it all up from somewhere else, all they could find, and buried it there under that tree.
And then there was the heart. It was in the ribs, dried up and stuck to them, but it was clear even to me that's what it was. I've cut up animals – I know what they look like. There was nothing else left but pieces of bones, and the heart, all dried up. The whole time I was laid up in bed I couldn't stop thinking about that heart, and how it had survived everything else that had happened to that poor corpse. Somehow, I got it in my head that it was what had drawn me to the tree. That it was the answer I was looking for.
I'm not saying I was in my right mind. I was sick, feeling it, feeling pretty desperate. I figured that if nothing happened, I'd settle myself with Heaven. But it seemed maybe there was a chance for a life here on earth, and every other impulse about the tree had been right so far. It took me some time, though. I had a bad spell and thought maybe I'd wasted the chance I'd been given, and that's what pushed me to it in the end. The doctor had given me some medicines to take for the pain, and I ground it up into powder and drank them all down together. Yes. I mean the heart. It was dry, so dry, it was easy to crack out of its place stuck to the ribs, and almost crumbled in my hands. I mixed it to a tonic and drank it all back. That way I would never be sure what helped, see – could have been the drugs, could have been something else.
That was the summer the tornado tore through the county. Flattened a good few houses in town and around. The farm got hit by it, though I sheltered in the cellar and was okay. I was feeling better by then, getting stronger all the time. I kept taking the medicines, of course, and the doc was surprised how much they were helping. I never whispered a word about what I'd done, and mostly I tried not to think about it. That twister though, it wreaked some havoc. Tore that fairy tree up by its roots just about, which was a thing to see, and it scattered the bones I'd kept stashed under the porch. Mostly they were in the yard, and I collected them back up when I was picking up the rest of the house. I'd never been sure what to do with them, but all this was a sign I had to do something. Before anything else, I took them down into the cellar and into the furnace. There was a lot of burning to do, cleaning up after the storm.
Rebuilding it wasn't my idea, but I needed wood to fix the place up and there was one big chunk to be had real easy. It had to season, but the yard in town had one of those fancy drying kilns, so there was just enough time for me to step out of town on business – first time in well over a year I'd felt strong enough to do that, and start to the building as soon as I got back.
By then, I knew something was going strange. I thought maybe it was the medicines, finished the work of making me better and turned to making me differently ill. I'd wake up in the night feeling my heart pounding hard and blood rushing in my head. It sounds like a panic, but it didn't feel that way. It felt like my heart beating off rhythm, working too hard or echoing on itself. It was never just mine though. Turns out I was never the one getting stronger, medicines or not.
Now I know what it is I'm hearing in the night, because it's started to haunt my days. My thoughts are all I've got left – something else is doing the driving. I wonder if maybe it all started before I even took ill, or if that's why I did. If there's something more in what happened to my folks, or why they never had any other kids. I wonder how far back this all goes, where that body came from in the roots of that tree, why it was scattered, why it was brought all back together. Why here. I think about that dried up heart stuck on those old ribs, all tangled up in the roots of that old tree. I think about the beams of this house, and how the louder the pounding gets, the more I feel them closing in around me. I wonder how we ever thought this place belonged to us – this land, this house, this body.
It sure doesn't now.