Audrey Evergreen lived in a lonely little house in a lonely little town called Shirewood Springs. Her yard was green and lovely and full of flowers and rock gardens and a tiny manmade pond filled with colorful fish and a fountain spring that songbirds would drink from.
In the middle of the yard, behind her little house in the little town, was a great big oak tree that shaded her home and rustled in the breeze. The tree was finely decorated, for Audrey loved her big tree and the company it brought her. Birds, squirrels, even family. Decorating the tree, hidden by the leaves, but unmistakably there, were bird baths, squirrel feeders, and eleven human heads.
They were recent additions — the squirrel feeders, that is. Her late husband, rest his soul, never liked squirrels, or the chattering they would make, and he would throw rocks at them when they came to drink from the bird baths. But now Manfred was dead, and the squirrels clambered past his scalp to reach the sunflower seeds in the tiny boxes that hung from the branches of the big oak tree.
Audrey could still remember the day she dug up the old coot. He was buried beneath the tree, originally, there alongside the graves of his father and his father’s father, and their wives, too. There were six graves, at first. Manfred’s was the seventh, and Audrey would be the eighth. Before Manfred’s heart failure, she always thought it was sweet that his family was buried together, even with the macabre sense of foreboding that came from knowing she would join them eventually, or that she trod over them whenever she had to trim the leaves.
Six graves–the past three generations before Manfred. Each Evergreen had only one son, and so too did Manfred and Audrey. Long after Manfred died, Audrey looked into the Evergreen genealogy, and found that there were only three generations before Manfred: his great-grandfather immigrated from Ireland during the potato famine, with no other family left. He had changed his surname to Evergreen, effectively the start of the family line. The two of them moved to a little house in a little town called Shirewood Springs, and there they planted an acorn that would grow to become a big oak tree.
It was all fascinating, and a little sad. The Evergreens before Manfred and Audrey were all together, but the yard was not big enough for any more. The future Evergreens would be separated from their ancestors, and the tree. It wasn’t right, but she didn’t know what to do about it. The tree just took up too much room….
The tree. There was lots of room in the tree. But they all needed to be in one place, together.
So she went to work with Manfred’s old picket shovel, digging and digging for an entire afternoon before reaching her late husband’s final resting place. It was good to see him again. His cheekbones were as high as ever. Always smiling–that was Manfred. A grinning skull, even in life. The head was all she needed. The rest of him could feed the tree. She fixed Manfred’s head comfortably between the twisting branches and the root of the tree, about halfway up.
Then she did the same with the other six Evergreens, placing their soft, rotted skulls in rows along the branches of the big oak tree. Manfred was in the middle, his mother and father above him, his grandfather and grandmother higher still, and his great-grandfather and great-grandmother near the very top. Even though the leaves hid the skulls from view, Audrey felt fulfilled just knowing they were there, right where they should be.
Her son, Jake, came to visit one day, and she showed him tree, explaining how he and his children would one day be a part of it. But he didn’t understand. He wanted to get her help, to put her in a “safe place” where she could “be with others her age.” He wanted to take her away, away from that little house, maybe away from the little town. Audrey didn’t know what happened next, but she found herself standing before Jake’s unmoving body, blood pooling around it, staining the picket shovel. She wept. She wept and she collected what she needed from the tool shed and soon Jake’s head sat below his father’s, exactly where it belonged. She wept for hours–endless tears of happiness. But there was only one branch below Jake’s. Any more generations, and the tree wouldn’t be able to keep them all together.
No one knew what happened to Jake–he just disappeared one day, out of the blue. Audrey had Jake’s wife and two girls over for tea. A special tea–for mourning. She sat with them, and cried with them, and added them to the tree. The autumn leaves were floating away. The faces were revealed at last. Six generations of Evergreens, sitting in a row. Pretty as a picture.
And so the last living Evergreen descendant smiled and shed a tear at the beauty of her work. She was grinning from ear to ear as she climbed the ladder. The sun was setting and the night was cold. The first true bite of winter, cutting to the bone, making Audrey shiver madly in her nightgown and bare feet–but she didn’t care. It would be faster this way. She scooted along the branch until she sat beside her beloved husband. The branch was broad and sturdy, much like Manfred used to be, so she knew she wouldn’t fall. She placed her husband in her lap and leaned against the trunk of the tree, still smiling. She closed her eyes. The freezing wind was fierce, and the last leaf was stripped away.
By morning, the family tree was complete.
Today’s three prompt categories were, “A curious case,” “Bone tree,” and, “Murder most foul.”
My stepmom has a tree in her back yard that she decorates with animal skulls. Buffalo, deer, coyote–all kinds. We figure we’re next.