The Tree of Consequences

By Jon Moray

The Tree of Consequences was a short story published online by a market called ‘With Painted Words’ in January 2013. With Painted Words publishes stories based on a photo theme, and this story of fantasy was inspired by a photo that showed a sign attached to a tree. Enjoy!

Gerald had broken away from his friends in the park and ventured around the lake while they chose to explore the woods behind the campgrounds. He ambled aimlessly, enjoying the sun and sky that sported patches of what looked like cotton floating through the air. As relaxing as a stroll around the lake was, his interest was piqued by a sign that was nailed to a tree about twenty feet away and some five feet up off the ground.
As he neared, he realized the paper was a caution sign that read “WARNING” in white block letters with a black rectangular background. Below the word warning read, “Do not touch this tree. Violaters will suffer the consequences.” The paper looked like a faded rag that was fastened to the tree by all four corners. The nails were rusted at the heads and some of the residue of the rust was evident on the sign. He spied upon the tree’s jagged bark and looked around to see if he was about to be a victim of a prank. There wasn’t anyone in sight except people barbequing across the lake.
Gerald thought to himself, Why can’t anyone touch this tree? It’s no different from the rest of the trees lining the lake. This must be some prankster’s idea of a joke, as lame as it seems. He once again surveyed the surrounding landscape, including the fluttering green leaves above him and was convinced he was the only one within sight of this peculiar elm. He cursed himself for giving a thought of fear toward the warning and carelessly reached out to grab the tree. A faint vibration about four inches from the trunk abruptly stopped his progress. He pulled his hand back as if an aligator had just snapped at him.
My mind is playing tricks on me, he reasoned, as he tried to gather himself with the new rythmic senses the tree was emitting. He retreated a few steps away to regroup and mentally deduce any logic to this now unique tree. He glanced around to locate his friends but they were still nowhere within eyeshot. He was on his own if he dared to touch the tree.
Suffer the consequences…what the heck is that supposed to mean? Someone had to touch the tree to attach the sign, right?, he pondered. A surge of testosterone filled him and he straightened up as if preparing for a physical confrontation. He psyched himself up to forego the warning and call its’ bluff. He looked around once more and drew a deep breath that was accompanied by a gentle breeze that made him shudder with uneasiness.
“Here goes nothing,” he uttered and slowly reached out. He ignored the vibration that intensified as he got closer. He suddenly lunged out and grabbed the bark as if he was reaching for a loaf of bread on a shelf. He suddenly began to turn to tiny dust particles and dematerialize from the head down. His remnants spiraled to the earth and eventually left a mound of what appeared to be sawdust at the foot of the tree. The breeze picked up again and gently blew the mound into the welcoming water as echos of satisfied whispers emanated from the branches.
“Gerald,” his friends’ called out, as they stepped out of the wooded area and toward the direction of the lake.
“I saw him walking by the lake around where that tree is,” one of them said as they crept closer.
“Check it out, there’s a sign on it. Maybe Gerald is up to his dumb pranks again…”


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