#Serial Thrillers Beneath the Lightning Tree Chapter 1

The Prologue of the story introduced us to the Tree. In the middle of a mysterious island in the forest, the Tree had stood for hundreds of years. But what does it have to do with our story?

Chapter 1 – The Fairy Tree

            The noises began again behind her. Moving quickly through the trees, she raced along the worn track, following in the footsteps of generations of people. When she found the tree she was looking for, Daisy grabbed hold of a low-hanging branch and threw herself up. She ascended the tree with the ease of years of practice, finally coming to a stop half way up. Settling just in time, Daisy held her breath as the noises came closer. Hushed voices and the sound of branches breaking reached her ears as the two boys came stumbling along the track. Both the boys were tall with dark hair. One was well ahead of the other, moving quickly along the track. The other moved reluctantly, dragging his feet and whinging. “Why are we doing this, Adam? Let’s just go back to school,” the second boy whined.

            He reached the bottom of Daisy’s tree and half-turned as if to walk back the way they had come. Adam ignored his brother and continued to march along the path. Seth threw his hands in the air and slumped on the floor, leaning back on the trunk of the tree. Daisy’s eyes widened as the boy folded his arms behind his head and leant back, as if going to sleep. If Seth was to open his eyes now, he would be looking right at her. Unable to move, Daisy simply had to wait. Minutes passed as the boy sat with his eyes closed. A sudden noise made Daisy jump. What was it? The tree was gently shaking and the noise continued. It sounded like the purring of a cat, rising and falling regularly, the tree shaking in time. Daisy realised that the sound was snoring. Seth had fallen asleep at the base of her tree! Was this her opportunity? Daisy tensed, ready to leap for the ground. If she could land on her feet, she could probably be away before Seth even realised she had been there. As she readied herself to jump, Adam came crashing back through the undergrowth. Pulling his dozing brother roughly to his feet he shouted, “Get up, idiot. We’ve lost her!” Seth, woken suddenly, gawped at his brother.

“What’s happening? I was searching for her here.” he replied, laughter glinting briefly in his eyes.

“Let’s get back to school, the bell will be going soon,” Adam shouted again, barging passed his brother and disappearing into the trees. Seth paused, laughing again. As he walked away he turned and looked right where Daisy was crouched in the tree.

“See you at school, Anderson,” Seth whispered, loud enough for Daisy to hear. Staring into her eyes, he winked and smiled, then turned and followed his brother. Daisy gasped. Why had he not told Adam? How long had he known that she was there?

     Inching her way along the branch, she hooked her legs over the branch and swung down, watching as an upside-down Seth disappeared through trees. Looping one leg over the branch, Daisy dropped lightly to the ground and loped silently through the trees, keeping Seth just in view. After a while, confident that they were leaving, she turned and ran the other way.

            Before the noises of Seth’s movement had disappeared, Daisy was already quickly moving the other way. Following the well-worn path, she traced the steps of thousands of people that had walked that way before her. The path she followed wasn’t straight, rather it wended its way unpredictably, skirting trees and turning so regularly that an unexperienced visitor would feel hopelessly lost in the woods. Even someone such as Daisy who had spent half her life in the woods, walking this route, felt that following the path could lead her back to where she started, such were the iterations and loops in the path.

            Even after hundreds of trips through the woods, Daisy still came upon glades that she had never seen before. As she walked today, she turned and looked between two faded silver birches. There, illuminated by a single beam of light drifting lazily through the trees, lay a carpet of yellow flowers. Daisy didn’t often stray from the path but today she broke the first rule. The small patch of flowers, isolated in the gloom flooding the woods, was a good enough reason to break the rules. She stepped carefully around the flowers, skirting the boles of two trees until she reached a path of bare earth. Daisy lowered herself to the ground, surrounded by a sunrise of blossoms. She lay there for what seemed like hours until, spell broken, the sunlight faded as the day continued and the flowers were left in darkness. As the glamour faded, Daisy stood and walked through the flowers, crushing the blooms carelessly as the made her way back to the path.

            Reaching the worn furrow, she continued in the direction she was heading before the flowers, now ravaged, had distracted her. She knew exactly where she was heading, knew which direction to take. Partly because these woods were home, but also partly because of the small, faded doors that hung on trees all along the path.

            Daisy knew each door, recognised the design and colour. She could tell how old the doors were by their colour. Each door had been painstakingly made by hand, over centuries, maybe even thousands of years. None of the doors had been made in her lifetime, or maybe even her parents’, but they stretched back in time. Those more recent doors still retained their colour, though moss-covered, the smudges of red and greens were clear. The older doors were faded and pale, blending into the bark of the trees almost as if they had grown there.

            Each door was small, about the size of her hand. Although the design differed, each one contained a door with a doorframe, a window and a small handle. Some opened outward when pulled, if the hinges hadn’t seized with age. But behind was nothing but bark. Daisy though she had opened every door that it was possible to open, and there were too many to count, but each time she came across a door she didn’t recognise she still tried it. Still try to pull the door open. Still felt the jolt of anguish and annoyance when the door opened upon nothing. One day there would be something.

            If the doors failed to show a world beyond, they did serve to guide Daisy along the path. Each door was a signpost, a way marker. She knew the doors so well that she could tell where she was in the forest simply by looking down. There was the faded green door with the elaborate ivy-leaf cut-out window, there the simple rectangular frame with a small brass handle and chipped, red paint still visible. Those two doors told her that she was nearly there.

            The place she was heading towards was different every time she went. It changed. It didn’t alter, age in time like the doors. It didn’t weather throughout the year, changing in colour and mood like the leaves in the rest of the forest. No, the place that she was heading towards was different every time she visited, and she visited a lot. As she passed the last Fairy Door, this one beautifully made, its mahogany wood still smooth, the gilded lock and key still polished, regardless of its age, the path faded into meadow. It was as if the feet of hundreds of visitors had all reached this point and hesitated, not sure whether to continue or turn back. Perhaps many had done just that, scared of what lay ahead. Some definitely hadn’t turned back, Daisy knew.

            The path faded into a grassed meadow, dotted here and there with small white flowers. As Daisy paused where the path became grass, she could hear the musical meanderings of the small river echoing from both sides. The bends of the river formed a u shape, the end of the path pointing directly the strip of land between the bends. Were Daisy to continue walking she would pass between two stones which stood separating the two sections of water. Each stone was nearly the same height as her, although she wasn’t very tall for her age (something Adam often reminded her of). The stone to her left was gnarled and weather-beaten. As the light drifted through the darkening clouds above illuminated the stones, it was clear that the first stone leant slightly to one side, as if drunk. Its shadow lay crooked on the ground. Moss covered it completely apart from the odd bare patch which showed a surface covered in pock-marks, as if the surface had been the victim of a volley of tiny bullets.

            Its twin, for want of a better word, was graceful where the first was gnarled, smooth where it was rough and perfectly balanced. The right-hand stone was perfect. Its shadow pointed directly away from the sun’s light, a perfect echo of the stone’s regular shape. If this stone had stood in a graveyard or a stately home, you wouldn’t have remarked upon its perfection. It looked worked, like it had been shaped and smoothed by, if not human hands, then at least hands. The only thing that cause the first stone to look irregular in any way was a small round hole roughly the size of Daisy’s hand. The hole cut through the stone’s heart, as if a small tunnel. Apart from this one aberration, the stone looked perfect. Which made it stand out from the rest of the scene, as all around it stood nature in its perfect imperfection. Even its twin gave it away, by its gnarled worn appearance which made it seem like it had been thrust from the earth. In comparison, the second stone looked like it had been placed there by some satisfied craftsman, confident in its perfection but alien nonetheless.

            To either side of the stones, just visible in the gurgling waters of the bends either side of this narrow bridge, were more stones. Not as tall or as important-looking as the other two. Nevertheless, there they stood. If you were to walk the loop of the river, and Daisy had, you would see these stones poking out of the water at regular intervals until you came back round to the twins.

            It was as if the island in the loop of the river were a castle, the stones in the water forming a wall running all the way around. Which would make the pair of stones a gateway. From the air, so unknown to Daisy, the river looked like the rope of a noose. Which would make the pair of stones the knot.

            Daisy, as she had hundreds of times before, walked nonchalantly between the stones. Ignoring the graceful twin, she slowly ran her fingers over the weathered surface of the other twin, as if stroking a faithful pet, before quietly moving on. Ahead of her stood the ‘island’ within the loop of the river. The island was covered in meadowland with short stubby grasses and muted flowers of different colours. The only thing on the island was the Tree.

            The tree stood directly in the centre of the island. It was not that much taller than many of the other trees in the forest but its trunk was vast. Daisy had measured it as best she could and it took twenty-eight footsteps to walk around its base. Seven huge roots, as thick as her legs, rose out from the base of the tree then sank into the ground again like writhing snakes. The bark, riven with countless fissures, rose up to become branches, arms sticking out, fingers pointing in all directions. The leaves, regardless of season, were broad and emerald green teardrops. Whereas the rest of the woods seemed old, sedate almost, its plain trees stood gossiping like pensioners, the tree on the island seemed wild and alive. Although older than the others by far, it seemed younger, more vibrant.

            Fractured skin and pointing arms made perfect conditions for climbing and Daisy spent hours doing just that. If you made your way to the highest, swaying branches and lay down, you could see just above the canopy of trees all the way to town. Houses, the school, all were visible. The most obvious buildings, rising from the town on the top of Fairview Hill were the ruins of Carrington Hall, fire-blackened remains of a once-grand stately home and the Folly, a tall, narrow building made from blood-dark bricks which jutted into the sky like an accusing finger. The island, soft and green, seemed so peaceful in comparison to the town, so natural compared to the strange old building on the hill.

            The tree’s leaves didn’t change, ever. But one thing did, even though Daisy had never seen another living creature there. Sometimes when Daisy crossed the bridge and walked between the stones, the trees branches were full of ribbons. Ribbons of every hue, colour and material would be tied to the branches. The tree would sing with colour and the ribbons would be bathed in a golden light, regardless of the weather outside. Sometimes, like today, the tree would be empty, the ribbons gone. She had searched the ground on these occasions but had not once found a scrap of material. When the branches lay empty, the light on the island seemed normal.

As she approached the tree today she thought that this was the case. The branches were bare, the tree illuminated simply with sunlight. However, unlike any other time she had visited, as Daisy looked at the ground she noticed something. The floor was littered with ribbons, hundreds of them. Daisy reached down and picked one up. As she twirled the faded, green cotton between her fingers, she realised that she had a reason for being there that day, more than any other.

            Hours later, Daisy stood with the same green ribbon wrapped around her fingers but all the others were gone. The floor was picked clean, the branches sang with colour once more. The light was as usual though, dull and boring. She reached up and tied the final piece to a low branch and… nothing. No magical light, no eldritch music or voices singing. Annoyed, Daisy hit the base of her tree with her hand. Turning away, she happened to put her hand in her pocket. There, forgotten, was a small piece of her favourite dress. Having outgrown it, she had gone to throw it away but something had driver her to tear a thin piece of it and put it in her pocket. She turned and slowly climbed the tree. When she reached the upmost branches she selected a thin branch and carefully tied the piece of material to it. As she did so, the island slowly changed. The minute her fingers moved from the branch, that warming glow appeared. Daisy lowered herself to the ground. Anyone watching watching her would have seen that not only had the tree, the island, even the air, changed but that Daisy had changed also.


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