I don’t know when I started writing stories, but it definitely happened at primary school, initially at the instruction of teachers. My stories seemed to stand out more than my schoolfriends’ efforts, so much so that we would still talk about them months or even years later.
One strand of tales involved a time travelling tree (yeah, it was called a TREEDIS for obvious reasons) and regular alien invasions.
(No idea what TV show I’d been watching…)
A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an old primary school exercise book. Of course, the stories therein are utterly basic and not worth publishing here. But it got me thinking.
The idea of an ancient tree, linked to every age of civilization, that acts as a gateway or portal to another time is not a new idea. But what if it acted as the gateway to a horrible realisation: that those adventures were real, and the survivors were suddenly having to come to terms with the horrors they’d seen?
Below is a short piece I wrote inspired by this idea.
I looked at the tree at the bottom of the garden with more intent than usual. Something stirred a memory, a recollection of travelling through time, fighting monsters…. losing friends.
It looked like just another oak, occasionally pruned by the railway company to stop the branches overhanging the track. It always seemed pointless as most of the time the trains would shear any branches clean off as they passed.
But I knew that oak was more than just a tree. Somehow, it had been a portal, a gateway to adventure.
Or had that just been in my head?
Perhaps I’d imagined the wiry metal Scissorians, and the squat, pudgy blobfish-like Blobs. They had been particularly nasty, both claiming the lives of my friends, people I liked but never saw again (if the had ever really existed…).
And here I was, all these years later, back at the site of that great tree, which never seemed to move or vanish and yet presented us with a bridge into other worlds, times and places with seeming ease.
Of course, it was all nonsense, the resut of a very active imagination, lots of ink and an enthusiasm for homework at an early age. The tree stood as it always had, motionless but for the wind and the rain. Despite being surronded by long grass and a wild thicket of rose bushes, I pushed through to touch it one more time.
By now, the old tree must have been the best part of a hundred years old, if not more, but it had never seemed stronger, more alive. Grass tugged at my ankles as I cleared a temporary path through it, reaching out to the tree, to grab the not-really-magical knot on the side where a previous owner had removed a sapling branch. A browning oak leaf drifted past my eye and landed on my shoulder as I grabbed the knub.
Brushing it off I noticed something was wrong.
A swirl of darkness left me disorientated, and ozone cut at my nostrils. The once green garden was almost gone, save for a burnt patch of earth and some charred bricks where the house and garage once loomed. Matching this, the sky appeared brown, hanging ominously overhead, perhaps ready to crash. Most surprising of all was the tree, which moments ago had seemed so definitely alive, now stood caked in ash, burnt and surely dying.
This wasn’t the nightmare that I thought it was. It wasn’t an aggressive daydream brought on by a cheese and red onion panini. Nor was it the result of sitting down until bedtime doing homework that I really didn’t need to do (and costing my school a lot of money on exercise books!).
Those friends I’d lost were real, and they never came to play again. We never saw them at school. No one ever mentioned them because they were scared of upsetting anyone, or were simply too traumatised to form their names.
It had all been real. As the truth punched me, I fell to my knees, ignoring the ash and charcoaled remains of a garden, gripped by an anguish like no other.
In the shadow of the burnt sycamore, I realised the grotesque truth. Slumped against the stubby remains of the tree that had somehow transported me here, into what I assumed was some horrific future, I cried out, begging it to take me back, to reunite me with my family. What good could I do here?
And then I heard it.
The sound of metal being ripped apart echoed all around, so powerful it disturbed some blackened bricks on a nearby house, silently crashing to dust on the floor. I looked up into the sky, searching for the craft that could have made caused it.
That’s when I saw it.
Brown. I’d thought the sky was brown and heavy, but no, it wasn’t the sky. Somehow suspended above me, ridged across the midsection and most definitely looking like the biggest piece of rusting old iron you ever saw, was some sort of spacecraft, surely 300 miles long, perhaps half as wide, and taking up almost the entire sky, save for a few stars on the horizon.
Its origin was a mystery. No markings were immediately apparent. Such was its size, I could have been looking at some sort of insignia and not even realised it. Tiny specks of yellow littered the hull, and around 30 miles to the east, the sound that had deafened me, an opening in the craft which alone must have been the size of a town, spewing out a dozen little flying machines. From here they seemed no bigger than fruit flies, but as they quickly homed in on my position I could see that each was an open-topped sky rider, a sort of too-big bike for the air.
Each had a pilot, and I had no intention of seeing what they looked like. Looking down, I saw I was already partly caked in ash from my earlier breakdown. I went down in the mess, making sure it covered me completely, finding a few drops of water in a discarded polythene cup by the railway line and caking a muddy mix to my face and hair before climbing up into the remaining branches of the tree and draping myself over it, hopefully appearing as nothing more than detritus.
Within moments, the craft roared overhead, a sound not unlike formula one racing cars at full speed. Dare I sigh out of relief as they continued away? No. One sound grew louder, and stealing a glimpse I saw the machine, around 40 foot long, flying over the ruined houses, atop it a demonic red rider looking in my direction.
Looking, but not seeing.
The rider must have been 12 feet tall, if not more, and seemed to be wearing some sort of armour, covering it from head to toe. Otherwise, it was built normally, two arms and legs, a cape and some sort of coat of arms on each shoulder. A red head with blazing fiery eyes turned left and right as it surveyed the area, leaving me thankful that it didn’t seem to have spotted me, and a few moments later the craft picked up speed again and took the creature away.
Numb with shock, I stayed in the tree. I doubted I ever wanted to leave ever again.
It’s an interesting concept, one that I like more than most. Whether I have the time to do anything with it, of course, is another matter…