night tree nightmare

Night time. With friends and family, walking outside in a place where we are excited to be. This feels clandestine, as if we are trespassing. Cloistered gardens. Everywhere bright and dark green luminous in the moonlight. Like a Rousseau drawing. But the jungle is private: the huge spiky ferns and luscious trees are enclosed by tall razor sharp points. Heavy locked gates. Stone sculptures peep out as we peep in. We are walking down a long straight gravel path, like something at a stately home.

Ahead is the silhouette of a huge tree. This tree is not locked away. It is right in front of us on the path. Its outline is bald, leafless. We get closer and see the tree is dead. Its bark has been removed, its branches all hacked off. Still, it’s climbable and, without even speaking, we rush to it and clamber up it, excited, scrambling – me, my mum, my brother, my friend B. Climbing the dead, black, cracked tree with no skin. We are all heading for the bald stump-head of the tree, we are racing, and now suddenly here we are at the top in the moonlight, laughing. B is just below, reaching for the branch where my brother’s foot rests, and then the branch snaps and his foot pushes B and she loses her grip and falls suddenly and silently.

My mother is the first of us to climb down to her. My brother and I are screaming and crying, stumbling and fumbling our way down. When we reach the path we find mum standing silent and immobile. Where is B? We dare not look. My brother and I cling to each other, hysterically repeating, “Mum’s not even kneeling down, she’s not kneeling down.” Clearly kneeling for B is pointlesss – she has gone – all that remains is a smudge of some appalling grey-orange tissue like marmalade.

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