Sitting next to an old, crooked post and beam fence, sits the Eating Tree. It is a fitting compliment to the splintered wooden fence that tilts in a jagged path near it. No one is quite sure what variety of tree the Eating Tree is. The bark resembles that of a dark, almost black sycamore, with the roughness of an oak. It is as tall as a strong old apple, but very rarely bears fruit.
When it has been witnessed to grow leaves, they are a curious mix of a birch and maple, and even in the rainiest and richest late spring, it is a mix of light greens, bright yellows and oranges, and brilliant, shocking red. But it was only following rich winters that it grew foliage.
The Eating Tree was a lonely plant. It sat next to its fence, well away from the forests that surround the farm which it occupies. No little creatures call it home. Birds do not nest it, and squirrels would not even bury acorns near it. Even lichens refuse to grow on its trunk. But they had good reason.
The Eating Tree is only known to very few that live in the general area of it. The town is secluded, infrequently passed through and even less frequently stopped in, and the Tree sits on its outskirts, away from the main road. When it is happened upon, it is by accident, or the occasional curiosity seeker who has heard legends and rumors of the Eating Tree.
The most recent visitor was a man from out of town who had heard stories. He had heard of the strange bark, and stranger fruit. He thought to photograph the Tree, perhaps find something interesting, and perhaps find that the stories were true. He would make a documentary of it, to show the world this strange creature.
It took the better part of a day for the man to find anyone who would give any credence to the stories of the Tree, and several hours to talk them into pointing him in the direction of someone who knew where it was and would actually show him to it.
A snaggle-toothed old woman was his escort. She didn’t care for anyone, and did not feel the need to keep people away from the Tree. She would give the same warning as the others, but that was where her efforts ended; she would all but walk them up to the Tree.
So it was with this curious traveler. She took him to the pasture and pointed down the cragging, bending length of the old splintered fence to the large, leafless tree standing next to it in the middle of a cold, snow covered field.
The wind was bitter, the sky grey. The Tree stood out stark black against the black-and white background of snow-covered ground and bare birches. The man knew immediately that even if the rumors were false, he could understand how they were started. The Eating Tree had a presence; it exuded power and malevolence like musk. The man was enthralled.
He snapped several photographs from far away, marveling at the twisted trunk and reaching branches, and how their leafless lengths appeared to be reaching for anything that might be near.
And although he had been warned repeatedly, even by the old woman, not to approach within a hundred steps of the Tree, he could not resist the urge to get closer. He wanted to feel its bark, and stand underneath its arms.
As he stood next to it, he was awed by its presence. The Eating Tree knew he was there, of that he was certain. He could feel its awareness, and it thrilled him as much as it frightened him. There was definitely a documentary in this tree. He would set up cameras and film it through the seasons; capturing its budding leaves and growing fruit in time lapse to show the life cycle of this monster of a tree.
He snapped several more images up close, recording pictures of its bark, its trunk, and several shots of its branches reaching hungrily toward the sky and surrounding ground. And of its roots; thick, constrictor-like tendrils of wood that almost seem to crawl through the ground.
He was snapping images of the thickest roots, the ones near his feet when he saw something that made him pause. He hadn’t remembered moving, but the largest of the roots appeared closer to his foot somehow. He shook his head, thinking it was his imagination. He heard a low, almost indecipherable moan.
“Must be a moose in the woods.” He thought to himself. The moan came again, louder. He scanned the edge of the forest, but did not see anything, let alone a moose. Deciding he had enough pictures, he turned to leave, to prepare a proposal to make his documentary. The look, the feel of this place would make an incredible story. It had the atmosphere of horror, the air of a ghost story.
He would capture his audience with the demonic tree in the middle of the old farm.
But, he could not turn. He could not even move his feet. He looked down.
The roots somehow had grown over them. He looked at the tree. The bark had a strange pattern in it, like a face; a glowering, evil face. But it was a passing thing; as quickly as he saw it, it was gone. He felt pressure on his calves, and realized that the roots had disappeared into the ground, as if they had lowered into water, and his feet were going down with them.
In the back of his mind, he wondered if he could capture this for his documentary, but the front of it was focused on the trunk of the tree; it was lifting bodily from the ground and moving toward him. He only began to scream when he was waist deep in the ground and the Eating Tree was setting its bulk down him, crushing him with roots and its girth, and devouring him with the moaning maw that occupied its underside.
The next day, the Eating Tree was in full bloom. Its branches bristled with brightly colored leaves, and the early stages of fruit already appeared on them. Come springtime, the fruit was fully formed. Upon close inspection, anyone seeing it would have seen the twisted, screaming face of the man who wanted to make a documentary.
And had anyone had the opportunity to see the pictures he took, they would have seen the horrific face of the eating tree, formed out of bark and grinning at its prey, as it crawled forward to feast.