Rotten, Part 1

Flora sat quietly while her parents spoke of caution and discrete behaviors. They were right to be concerned. Their family knew much about herbs and cures the townspeople didn’t understand. Mostly, people would come quietly to their door in the cover of darkness to ask for help with illnesses or other undesirable situations they sought help with. Funny how they didn’t have a problem with her family’s abilities and knowledge when they needed it. Then, it was evil and unholy when it suited them. Flora found the hypocrisy glaringly obvious and enjoyed pointing it out whenever the opportunity arose. It was this that had earned her the scolding that she was receiving.

“We stay safe by allowing them to save face, Flora. You know this.” her mother repeated for the third time in this conversation alone.

“Why must they act like that when they know our abilities are good and useful?” Flora asked. “They treat us terribly and then we are expected to drop everything and help them when they ask it of us.”

“Child, it has been this way for centuries and it will continue to be this way.” her father answered. “We choose to be a good and positive light in this world. That is our choice. It’s what makes us who we are. Be proud of your heritage but also show discretion. We don’t want to see you hurt.” he finished.

“Maybe if we brought their hypocrisies to light, they would see how foolish they look and stop.” Flora continued to argue until her father held up his hand and said, “Enough. This is the way of the world. If you want us to remain in it, you will stop this foolishness and remember your place. We are the quiet helpers. That is our place. Remember that and respect it or you will get us all killed.” he scorned. Mother looked disapprovingly at him, feeling him too harsh on their thirteen year old daughter. He felt her judgment and glanced back at her sternly. “She must understand the consequences of her actions.” he said as he left the room. Flora’s mother looked back at her daughter, a tear slowly emerging from her eye and sliding partly down her cheek.

“I’m sorry, mother.” Flora said, feeling guilty for making her sweet mother upset. “I’ll mind my tongue more closely from now on.”

“You may go to your room, dear.” her mother said as she wiped the tear away and stood from the small table in their cottage. Flora plopped down on her bed and stared out the window at the trees swaying in the evening breeze. It would be dark soon and a knock at the door would surely come. Another ungrateful person from their small town would ask for a cough serum or protection from some demon or a love spell. The requests were constant and sometimes even surprised Flora’s mother, which took some doing at this point in her life.

Flora did understand why her parents were concerned but that boy needed to be put in his place, for once. He was forever tormenting Flora and saying all sorts of terrible things about her and her family while his mother enjoyed many various remedies and potions from their family. He needed to know that. Or, at least Flora felt he needed to know that. He ran quickly home as soon as she’d blurted out his father’s most recent visit to her home, asking her parents for a potion to help his ‘bedroom affairs’ as he’d put it. Ha. Not so high and mighty now, she’d thought while the boy scurried home in shame.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door, much sooner than she was accustomed since it was still light out. As she emerged from her room, her father shooed her back into her room and warned her to stay there. The pit in her stomach told her this visitor had something to do with what she’d said to the selfish brat in the square earlier. They would probably want her to apologize, which she would but she wouldn’t like it. He didn’t deserve an apology. He deserved a switch.

“There have been some serious allegations made against you and yours.” the policeman said to her father. She watched through a crack in her door as his eyes wondered around their home from the front doorway, no doubt taking note of all the herbs hanging to dry and the various jars with seemingly strange ingredients in them.

“I don’t know what you could mean, Officer Waters. How is your mother feeling after her recent illness?” Father was a wise man. He was reminding the policeman of the family’s recent help in providing a tonic for his ailing mother, who’d made a fast recovery after drinking it. This was a normal tactic of his when someone was getting too out of hand with the family. It didn’t work this time, though.

“My mother is well and I’ll ask you not to bring her up again.” the policeman answered.

“May I ask what the trouble is?” father asked.

“Your daughter has been seen making unholy gestures in the woods and muttering curses to passersby.” he stated. “We’ll need to take her in for questioning.”

“You’ll do no such thing. She is a child. Children do and say strange things all the time, do they not Officer Waters?” Another reference to the policeman’s family as one of his children was quite rambunctious and always getting into mischief.

“I will be taking her and your wife as the accusation is that she is teaching the child witchcraft.” he finished speaking while pushing his way through the door. Father yelled that the statements weren’t true and scrambled to block Flora’s bedroom door but more townsmen poured into the cottage and easily over powered him. Mother burst into Flora’s room before the men reached it, took her hands, and chanted something before looking Flora in the eyes.

“You will live. Do not let this spoil your spirit.” she whispered just before the men dragged her away from her daughter and scooped Flora up. They dragged them both from the home, all the while yelling at Father to keep away and let them do their work. They promised to bring his wife and daughter back if questioning went well but he knew questioning of this nature never went well. His desperate pleas went unanswered as they were loaded into a horse and buggy and taken away, back to town to be interrogated.

The policemen kept Flora separated from her mother. She sat in the corner of an almost empty room, holding only two chairs and a table with a wooden box on it. Her mother’s screams and wails were her only entertainment and she quietly cursed herself for saying what she had to that boy the day before. Her mother tried to convince the men of her innocence but they would have none of it. For hours, she listened to her mother’s moans and whimpers. They were asking her to tell them who encouraged her to lay with the devil, something Flora knew her mother had never done. That was not the kind of craft they practiced. Even to thirteen year old Flora, it was obvious they wanted her mother to name her father. Her mother fell quiet after a while and Flora’s eyes felt heavy with exhaustion and worry.

A dream came to Flora as she dozed off in that dark, cold room. Her parents were walking towards a tree. Not just any tree but the big tree in the town square. The dead tree, as her family knew it. It was the tree all accused witches were hung from, some of them even slaughtered under. Flora called out to them but they kept walking towards it, of their own free will. She began to run to them, wanting to stop them from getting too close. Her mother turned to look her in the eyes and said, “Stay away from this tree, child. It brings death. We will drink it for you.” Flora screamed and, in a flash, both her parents hung by their necks from the two lowest limbs of the tree, it’s leaves dripping with blood and drooped with the heaviness of death. Each blood droplet was quickly sopped up by the hungry ground, roots swelling beneath the soil and shifting the earth around them.

Flora awoke in a cold sweat, tears flowing down her damp face. She no longer heard her mother’s whimpering but did hear something else. Her father. He was calling to her mother in a tone she’d never heard before. Pure fear and desperation was entrenched in every shout of her name that he made. The sound of it shocked Flora and brought her to her feet, even before the door swung open.

“We have no desire to kill a child, although I’m sure you think us monsters.” the man said to Flora as he and several others entered the room. “We only wish to keep our god fearing town safe from evil, you understand.” another stated. They seemed to be convincing themselves more than Flora. “Have you any other family, child?” a third man asked her. She shook her head no, still not sure what was happening. “We’ll find you a bed to sleep in tonight and permanent shelter soon enough. You’d do best to keep your mouth shut tight in the future, girl. Do you understand?” the first man asked. Despite his obvious effort to look stern and commanding, she could see pain behind his eyes. This was the first officer that had taken them from their home. Officer Waters, Flora recalled. Her parents knew him. They sometimes helped him. How could he betray their family in this way?

Flora was ushered away from the house in a hurry. Away from her now quiet mother and her father’s shouts and screams. She was taken to a house she didn’t recognize and shown to a small room in the attic where she had one window with an eerie view of the dead tree. She stared at its leaves moving in the breeze and the worn spots on its branches where the ropes were always placed for a hanging. She knew what was happening and she hated herself for it. But more so than that, she hated the people for it. She hated them all. Of all these people her parents had helped throughout the years, no one came to help them. In fact, they all seemed to gather round them now, like vultures around a dying creature. A clear reflection of those swaying branches shown in her eyes, damp with tears of betrayal and rage.

The next day passed with Flora being kept in that room. Yet another room that served as her cage while her parents were surely tortured and cursed by the same people who praised them in the dark. She kept watch over the dead tree, knowing full well that her dream wasn’t just a dream but a message. Her parents were protecting her the only way they could. They were drinking the death that was surely meant for her. A rumbling came from the wall as Flora placed her hands on it. Slight but noticeable. The more she thought of her family’s betrayal, the stronger the house vibrated. She heard occupants on the floor below take notice of it. After several minutes, the wife came bursting through the door and stared in horror at Flora with her hands upon the wall.

“You witch! I’ll see you hanged along with your dreadful parents!” she howled. Shut back in the room again, Flora smiled. It wasn’t the smile of an innocent child, though. It was the smile of a vengeful foe who had the upper hand. “You take her out of our home right now!” she heard the wife yell, most likely to her husband. They bickered and she shouted that their own family’s demise would be on his hands if he did not remove Flora from the home.

“She’ll see her parents hanged. That will straighten her up. She’ll know her place, then.” he shouted back to his wife. Flora sat motionless in the window, still staring at the dead tree with its crowd of people slowly assembling. Only rage embodied her now. Rage and hate. Her mother’s voice whispered from a far place in her mind. ‘Do not let this spoil your spirit.’ it said. Flora grasped at the sound of her mother’s voice, the only thing that could pull her back from the brink. She desperately needed kindness. Kindness from someone. Anyone. Some hope that humanity wasn’t completely lost to her.

Her contemplation was interrupted by the man and his son entering the room and grabbing Flora by the arms. They forcefully dragged her from the attic and then from the house, stopping at the edge of the crowd gathered in front of the dead tree. Held in place by these two men, Flora watched her parents slowly walking towards the tree, stumbling every few steps from the torment they’d endured for the last two days. Men were throwing ropes over the branches in the usual places and Flora’s eyes were fixated on them. It wasn’t a windy day but there seemed to be a storm moving in as the sky grew darker and gusts whipped around the crowd. A boy near her suddenly yelled, getting the attention of everyone around.

“Look at her eyes! What’s wrong with her eyes?” he cried. Men and women alike gasped as they looked over to Flora. The men dropped her arms in horror and stumbled back a few steps. Flora’s eyes were black. Solid black with tears of blood making their way down her young face. As her parents were being fitted into the ropes, her mother saw the shape her daughter was in and shouted above the crowd to her.

“Do not let this spoil your spirit, my daughter!” she wailed. “Do not let this spoil your spirit.” she repeated, softer this time. The stool was kicked from under her mother’s feet just then and she fell just a foot or so. With her neck unbroken by the weak jolt, her mother wriggled and jerked as she suffocated to death while Flora’s black eyes were fixated on her. Just as soon as her mother stopped moving, her father’s stool was kicked from beneath him also and he met the same slow fate as her mother. Their death faces now reflected in her black eyes, hanging from the dead tree. She began to step towards the tree, unimpeded by the people in attendance. No one dared touch the little witch girl with the black, bleeding eyes. The priest clutched his cross and repeated a prayer, his voice growing softer as she approached. Raising a hand in his direction, she quieted him abruptly. His lips sealed tightly together, even as he struggled to open them again. The crowd spread even farther away after seeing this, giving her a clear path to the dead tree where both her parents hung silently. Each step she took was the only sound made, aside from the wind now whirling through the town.

Upon reaching the tree, Flora’s black eyes studied her father and then her mother, taking in each tragic wound and blood stain on their bodies. The people didn’t run but stood frozen in fear. Their stunned silence gave way only when Flora turned and spoke, but it wasn’t her voice they heard. It was hatred. Vile evil, pure and created by their own horrifying misdeeds. Deep and booming, the voice rippled through them like a wave through the ocean.

“You have done this evil upon good people. And so it shall be done unto you.” Flora’s small hands reached down to the ground and her veins opened up as if on command. Her blood drained from her and fed the ground, swelling the tree roots as they’d done in her dream. The brown of the tree trunk turned a deep shade of black and the green leaves grew veins as red as the blood which fed them. With her body now drained of life, Flora crumpled to the ground where she remained until the next day. Townspeople were fearful to touch her but also feared she may reanimate if left there too long.

A coffin was swiftly constructed and all three of the bodies were hastily dumped into it. Buried with an iron cage around it, the coffin was put to rest far outside of town and downhill, hoping the corpses wouldn’t be able to make their way out and up the hill to torment the town. An attempt was made to cut the dead tree down. The man who swung the ax against it fell immediately, clutching his heart as he lay at the base of the blackened tree. After his death, no one ever approached the tree again, as it was considered cursed. If ever someone did wander too close, their family would always be met with some ill fate. Thus, it was believed that Flora continued to get her revenge. Although her name was lost over time, the dead tree remained.

The tale of what happened that day became story, legend, and even myth. Still, no one touched the blackened tree. Years turned into decades which turned into more than a century, yet the tree never lost its color. Not the black of its trunk nor the red lines spread so delicately through its evergreen leaves. It lies in wait, spreading its rotten roots through the land. Seeking revenge.


I hope you enjoyed the first of my three part story for Halloween weekend 2022. I make them annually for my podcast, True Hauntings & Scary Stories, every Friday before Halloween! You can find part 2 of Rotten here.

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