#SerialThrillers Beneath The Lightning Tree: Prologue

I've been writing a story on and off since last summer. Mostly off as being a full-time teacher and parent leaves very little time for anything else. I decided that after having picked up my pen again over Easter that I need to be pushed to write more to get this story finished. My idea was to serialise the story, much like Dickens did with Pickwick Papers and others. Asking someone to read my story as it stands (some 15,000 words at last count) isn't fair, although some people have graciously given their time to do that. However people might be willing to spend a couple of minutes each week to read one Chapter. Maybe they might even like it. Maybe they might look forward to the next one. Or maybe they might never want to read another word. Either way my story is out there. Then I realised that I know some other teacher/writers that might like to do the same thing. Safety in numbers is always positive. So I've started the #SerialThrillers hashtag so that people can share a short extract or a chapter of their story for people to read/comment/advise/critique/enjoy. This it the 'Prologue' for want of a better word to my story. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment on the blog or on twitter, whether positive or otherwise as the main purpose of this is for me to learn. 

Prologue: The Tree

          Some things never change. You go away, live your life, grow and change yet when you return everything is the same. Buildings, people and places seem to freeze with only tiny changes to show the passage of time. A little smaller perhaps. A bit more faded, a little less alive but just the same. At first glance, the Tree was just one example of this phenomenon. Year upon year, the people of Carrington Fold would visit the tree, walk around its trunk, sit in its shade. If anyone noticed that the tree had never changed, never grown, no-one ever spoke of it. In fact, it looked exactly the same regardless time marching on, of seasons rolling over, no-one spoke of it. The branches never grew, the leaves remained the same, the small blood-red berries always covered the low branches but never fell to the floor. Of everything you would notice about the Tree, only one thing ever changed. This perhaps explained why nobody saw the truth. The tree’s suspension in time masked by the ribbons. Every thin branch protruding from the straight bole of the tree was covered in ribbons.

The tree was bedecked in thousands of scraps of material of every shade, colour and type. From the highest branch to the lowest bough, ribbons were hung in merry groups. The fading of the material was the only way that the passing of time was marked. Huge swathes of the tied markers were white, bleached by time, tide, rain or snow. But for each aged, faded cloth there were a dozen more. Over hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, people had been crossing the river to stand beneath the canopy and reach up between its leaves to tie a small favour around the ageless bark. Moments of love, passion, fear and grief captured in the simple motion of knotting material. Silently and alone, or in laughing, merry groups, people had found their way here. Found solace here. Found peace here.

The tree stood alone in the middle of an island. Not a true island but close enough. The river ran for a mile around the tree in almost a perfect circle, like the rope of a noose. A short strip of land separated two symmetrical bends in the river. Where the two arcs swept close together were two stones around the height of a child. One stone looked natural, as if thrown up by the reverberations of time. Its top was jagged and rough, the surface pitted and covered in dark green moss. The second looked like it was placed there by a giant hand. Its sides were equal and smooth, its top rising elegantly, square. In the middle of this stone was a hole the size of a hand. The hole was perfectly round and smooth.

The stones stood as a gate allowing access to the island. In the past this was the only way to cross over to the tree, but over the years the river had slowed and become shallow, easy to cross in most weathers. Other stones, smaller and less impressive, were scattered throughout the waters of the river, forming a rough circle around the tree. From the air, the island looked like a huge eye. The tree: an emerald-green pupil. The standing-stones: a slow tear escaping into the rest of the woods.

You would think that the Tree was a myth. There are many tales of the island, plus photos and first-hand recounts of strange goings-on. Stories of people disappearing. Some people speak of a tree growing in the centre of the island. Others talk of the island but no tree. Others recall seeing ribbons strewn through the branches, or talk about tying the ribbons there themselves. Older couples, when asked, talk of the island with embarrassed smiles and mumbled stories of warm summer afternoons. Not everyone mentions the tree. Some, when asked, deny its existence. All know of the island, the stones and the fading river. However not everyone can recall the tree or its ribbons. There's a shared understanding from most of the local people that the tree has stood there for hundreds of years, yet doesn't appear on any maps. Visiting tourists who ask about the tree receive mixed responses. It's not as if the island is a closely-guarded secret but neither is it trapped in the photographs of glossy pamphlets, the like of which stand proudly in the local Library. Some have seen the tree, some simply… can’t.

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