The Tree of No Leaves

Nature is astounding. I often roam various grasslands and forests of our world merely attempting to translate the stimulation of the senses. My most intriguing endeavor occured whilst collecting kindling for a small fire I was preparing to build to during an overnight stay in the woods. I do have a home, but I was miles away from it that night, and by the way evening went, perhaps miles from what most would call reality.

For the most part, the woods were dense – thick with a variety of timber. Unless one took the time to look at them, as I mention, I often do, they all looked very similar to one another. I only needed a few more pieces of dry, dead wood with which I could keep a fire ablaze. In my search, I stumbled into an open clearing in the middle of the dense woods. In the center of the clearing was a tall oak and though it was Springtime, there were no leaves on the tree. The temperature for evenings that time of year were not terribly low, but required a jacket when outdoors. However, inside that clearing there was a major climate drop. All of sudden, I could see my breath and a shiver ran through me. I turned to exit the clearing, but it seemed as if the trees surrounded the clearing had walled me inside. Dusk was nearing and fear has started to set in when I heard a whisper.

“Vincent,” the quiet voice said. “Why are you here.”

To be honest, I was very concerned that a disembodied voice, who somehow knew my name was questioning my presence. I felt as if I had no choice but to answer.

“Just enjoying an evening camping,” I replied sheepishly.

“No, you’re hiding. You are hiding from something. Perhaps from yourself?”

“What?!” I replied. “That’s ridiculous. Why would I hide from myself?”

I noticed a sizable hollow spot in the center of the leafless tree. I slowly approached it. The voice was coming from the hollow spot in the tree.

“Vincent,” the tree continued in a low tone, “it’s your fault.”

A shutter ran through me again. “That’s impossible,” I muttered, gazing at the tree. I stood by the tree and peered up at its high trunk to its long, scraggly branches. I returned my gaze to the rest of the clearing and noticed the ground was now covered in fresh snow, yet none had fallen from the sky. Where was I and how was this possible?

The voice repeated, “Its your fault. An innocent man is dead because of you.”

I was speechless. My head was swirling. Why was an ominous voice accusing me of a man’s death? My mind was racing through recent memories that could vaguely be connected with such an accusation. Then it hit me.

Two years ago I was questioned in a murder I had witness while walking along the city street late one evening. I honestly do not remember why I was even there. A tall figure emerged from the shadows and tried to mug a passing business man. The business man and the tall villain scuffled and the business man managed to hit his assailant on the left side of his face. The attacker then stabbed him. A third man rounded the corner immediately just as the attacker was fleeing in the third man’s direction. The attacker forced the handle of the bloody knife into the man’s grip and threw his fist across the third man’s face, which would make it appear as if the third man had been hit by the victim when they compared bruises on his face to the victim’s knuckles. The true attacker had fled into the darkness of an alley. I saw the whole thing from beginning to end. The third man, still holding the bloody knife, ran over to the dying business man lying on the ground. I was afraid, even for my own life. What if the attacker had seen me. The authorities arrived shortly after and assessing the appearance of the scene, took the innocent third man into custody. I swiftly walked home, pretending I had seen nothing. That innocent man was later sentenced to death for the murder of the business man.

“Your silence killed an innocent man,” the ominous voice interrupted angrily. “His blood is on your hands now!”

I noticed a sheet of ice growing on the tree. It was getting thicker and I heard it start to crack under the dense pressure. All of sudden, the ice shattered outward with great intensity. I turn to cover my face and fell to the ground.

A moment passed. I lifted my head and looked around. The snow was gone. The ground was completely dry, I even had to wipe some of the woodsy soil from my face. Was it all a dream? Did I black out into a strange dream? I stood to my feet and saw there was no tree in the middle of clearing. Even the trees that had seem to wall me in had return to their normal state opening reentry into the woods. My right fist was still clenched and growing numb. I opened my hand and a fistful of reddish snow dropped to the ground. The blood of an innocent man was truly on my hands.

I whispered in disbelief, “What have I done?”

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