It looked broken and cruel, bent out of shape and twisted like the bones of someone too old. Faded and ancient. Even its roots, which rose and fell through the earth at its base, were twisted and worn. The grass was different up here, too - finer, more fragile. Anna called it fairy grass, like this whole place was some enchanted corner of the world. To me, it all looked like something sapped of life, just barely hanging on.
She stretched out the blanket and we left our bags on top of it. And then she was in the tree, climbing up the branches with practised skill, laughing down to me from its boughs. I followed slowly. I remember the cold dread that gripped me when I reached out an arm to touch its trunk, all twisted over, and the drop of ice through my skin when I felt the rough bark.
Anna just laughed, a sound intoxicated and enthralled. When I reached her, she was lying in the fork of a branch and plucking off leaves for some kind of crown.
"Isn't it nice?" She asked me.
I couldn't shake the unease. The way the branches were still warm here under the shade, like the tree was a body, the bark its skin, and somewhere, it was breathing.
Couldn't she feel it?
I perched, trying not to touch it with too much of my own body, and just watched her as she worked.
We sat there for hours. We left only when the sun did.
The nightmares that night gave terror a different definition. It was the first time I ever woke up screaming. I didn't tell Anna when I saw her that next morning, and I followed her back up the hill and back into the tree, and sat again for hours. Some part of me wanted to ignore the fear and prove that this was all just obsession taken too far. I didn't want to acknowledge the nightmares, or the way I could feel the tree pulsing with life when I felt along its bark with my fingertips.
The nightmares were worse again that night. I didn't sleep for the rest, curled up on the sofa staring at the TV.
But I couldn't tell Anna no when she asked to go, and eventually all the time we spent together that was not spent at school, was spent at the tree on the hill. When winter came, we just wore warmer clothes and sat at the base between the roots, warming ourselves on the body of that damn tree. The nightmares never stopped, but I learned to control my fear.
It all seemed to go on like that for months, nothing ever changing, everything moving at a constant and horizontal gradient. But everything changes eventually. There is a climax for all stories. Mine just happened like something out of a horror story. Unsolved.