The Family Tree

Not the media prompt, but I liked the tree roots
This is NOT the media prompt, but I liked the tree roots

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“What d’ya mean?”

Hugo shrugged his shoulders and lifted an over-sized mug of coffee to his lips.  “Sheriff thinks I done killed her.”

Lars frowned.  “It looks awful bad.  Louise Stewart says she heard ya’ll argue in the market yesterday.  An’ then Margaret disappears?”

“So, ya think I killed her?”

Lars stared at his friend before shifting his gaze out the dining nook window.  “More believable than that crazy story ya told me.” He jerked his head toward the tree.  “That thing’s nearly dead.”

“It’s not crazy!  It’s true.”  Hugo slammed his fist down on the table.  The ceramic mugs shook and coffee sloshed onto the glazed wood.  He didn’t move to clean the mess.

The sun sat on the western horizon, casting an orange glow across the grassy field.  Hugo glared at the massive sycamore, noticing its thirty-foot wide canopy resembled a tangled web of snakes.  It would be about two months before leaves grew back and he could pretend it was an average tree.  For now, the red hue dancing up the trunk and into the bare branches flaunted the secret only Hugo could see.

“I better go.  Becky’s waitin’ on me.”  Lars stood and put his hand on Hugo’s shoulder.  “Lemme know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Thanks,” Hugo muttered.

Lars let himself out.  Even after Hugo heard the old Chevy’s motor turn and saw the taillights disappear in the cloud of kicked up dust, he didn’t move.  He stared out the window until the sun retired and the half-moon began its watch over the darkening sky.

He didn’t blame Lars.  To anyone outside the Mondrian family, it would seem outrageous that a tree could be anything other than a stoic guardian of the pasture.  Hugo’s great-great grandfather, Piet, had planted that tree to honor his parents who died soon after their arrival in Alabama.  The journey from Winterswijk had been too much for their aging bodies.  Piet had no way of knowing his bizarre decision to plant the tree on his parents’ graves would produce a tree that would feed on future generations.

Several years after Piet planted the tree, he set out to prune the suckers and give it shape.   His widow, Aya, tried to tell police how the tree wrapped its roots around his legs and pulled him under the ground- she’d watched, stunned, from the kitchen window.  Authorities assumed grief had stolen her sanity, and her sister sent her to live in the asylum.

Some family members believed Aya, but feared admitting it.  Aya’s sister didn’t believe until the moment her ankles were bound and the soil opened to devour her like a python swallowing a field mouse.  With each sacrifice, the tree grew stronger and taller.

Hugo knew Margaret wanted the low-hanging branch removed, but thought he’d made the dangers clear.  He returned from the hardware store to find the house empty.  When Margaret didn’t answer his calls, a sick feeling crept over him.  Sure enough, he’d found the chainsaw, still idling, beneath the tree.  A nick in the bottom branch seeped red.  He put the chainsaw away before he called the police to report her missing.

He wondered if the tree would be sluggish from its afternoon fill, much like Hugo felt after Thanksgiving dinner.  There’s one way to find out.

He filled the sprayer with undiluted root killer.  He walked back and forth under the tree, saturating the ground beneath him.  When the ground shuddered, he dropped the sprayer and sprinted toward the house.  He leapt for the back door, but something caught his foot and he lurched forward, landing on his chest.  His fingers dug into the moist ground as he tried to stop the inevitable, but the house still slipped farther from reach.

He gasped for breath.  Even though his brain told him he didn’t have a chance, he couldn’t override his instinct to survive.  Minutes later, the eight claw marks stretching from the back porch to the sycamore’s trunk were the only signs of Hugo Mondrian’s existence.

The tree looked dead, but looks can be deceiving.


This is my response to Speakeasy’s weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 685 words) (1) using “Looks can be deceiving.” as the first sentence, AND (2) make some sort of reference to the media prompt- a painting called Avond (Evening): The Red Tree by Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian.

The challenge is open to anyone, so if you’re curious, click the badge below to see the media prompt and the full guidelines.  Have a great Monday!


70 thoughts on “The Family Tree

  1. Eric Alagan March 17, 2014 / 12:47 AM

    Another marvellous flash fiction – you’ve got it, gal 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 17, 2014 / 8:59 PM

      I’m glad you found this interesting, Eric! I felt a little ‘twisted’ as I wrote it 🙂

  2. BCIJo (aka Joanne Edith) March 17, 2014 / 3:37 AM

    A great photo inspiration for a fantastic story. You never fail to deliver a good read, Janna.

    • jannatwrites March 17, 2014 / 9:02 PM

      Thanks for reading, Joanne! The photo I posted here isn’t the actual media prompt, but I felt like it went well with the story. (I avoid posting photos that aren’t mine so I don’t run into copyright issues… read a post a while ago that scared me out of it!)

  3. agjorgenson March 17, 2014 / 6:14 AM

    Wow, a great story! Loved the many descriptions of the tree, and the photo works so well.

    • jannatwrites March 17, 2014 / 9:02 PM

      Thanks, Allen! I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  4. nrhatch March 17, 2014 / 7:26 AM

    I thought trees were our friends. 😀

    • jannatwrites March 17, 2014 / 9:05 PM

      Oh, they are perfectly nice, until you try to cut them down 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 17, 2014 / 9:05 PM

      Haha… Clever comment, Phil. I feel I should get the dirt out from under my nails now 🙂

  5. diannegray March 17, 2014 / 4:14 PM

    Yikes! What a brilliant story. It was the tree what done it! 😀

    • jannatwrites March 17, 2014 / 9:06 PM

      I don’t know where I come up with some of this stuff, but I’ll think twice before I lean up against a giant tree again 🙂 Thanks for reading, Dianne!

  6. Michael March 17, 2014 / 7:22 PM

    Elemen-tree, my dear Watson. 😀

  7. pattisj March 17, 2014 / 7:36 PM

    Nice, creepy story!

  8. cshowers March 18, 2014 / 2:10 AM

    This was an excellent story, Janna. It should be the beginning of a thriller novel. When I saw that Hugo was going to poison the tree, I had serious misgivings for him, and they proved to be true. I don’t usually like creepy stories, but this one was well written, and I was grateful that it wasn’t all bloody and gory. Your subtle imagery left no doubt about what was going on, without you having to go into graphic detail. This really would make a great novel.


    • jannatwrites March 18, 2014 / 12:15 PM

      Thanks so much for reading, Cheryl! I used to say I didn’t write ‘dark’ stories, but I’ve written enough of them that I have to admit that apparently I do 🙂 However, I don’t do graphic horror. I’m glad what I did write communicated the scene for you!

  9. shailajav March 18, 2014 / 2:30 AM

    I can almost see Hugo slipping underground! Brilliant write, as usual, Janna! There was a small part of me hoping that Hugo would get the better of the tree, with the root-killer and everything. Looks like it wasn’t meant to be. Gave me the chills!!

    • jannatwrites March 18, 2014 / 12:16 PM

      Hehe, it was kind of a creepy story… not sure where it came from, Shailajav 🙂 I thought about letting Hugo live, but then I decided to let the tree live on. Thanks so much for taking time to read it.

  10. pattyabr March 18, 2014 / 4:27 AM

    Could be a twilight zone episode now the pic of the tree creeps me out

    • jannatwrites March 18, 2014 / 12:17 PM

      Imagine how scary it would be at night 🙂 Thanks for reading, Patty!

  11. Silverleaf March 18, 2014 / 7:57 AM

    Oh fabulous, Janna! I started writing something about the tree as well, though less creepy, but inspiration just isn’t there today. I’m reading instead. I loved the dialogue, and the family history angle.

    • Silverleaf March 18, 2014 / 7:59 AM

      And I just love your use of the artist’s name!

      • jannatwrites March 18, 2014 / 12:18 PM

        Thanks! I hadn’t originally planned to that.

    • jannatwrites March 18, 2014 / 12:18 PM

      I’m sure inspiration will come (sometimes reading other stories will trigger a thought or an off-shoot of something you read, too.) I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Silverleaf 🙂

  12. Kathy Combs (@KathyCombs16) March 18, 2014 / 8:09 AM

    WOW, I could see him in my mind being sucked underground. This was wild. I love the way your mind works. This was an incredible story.

    • jannatwrites March 18, 2014 / 12:19 PM

      Thanks, Kathy – my mind is a bizarre place sometimes. I think the colorings of that painting brought out the darkness me 🙂

  13. mbarkersimpson March 18, 2014 / 8:15 AM

    Loved it! It was an excellent use of the prompt, and an exciting tale to read. Well done.

    • jannatwrites March 18, 2014 / 12:21 PM

      I’m glad you liked the story, M. I appreciate you taking time to read it!

  14. nabanita March 18, 2014 / 1:14 PM

    This was excellent…I really liked how you weaved it around the tree…!

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:13 PM

      Thanks, Nabanita – I’m glad you liked the story!

  15. habibadanyal March 19, 2014 / 2:24 AM

    I like the whomping willow better. 😀

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:14 PM

      Hehe… no weeping to be had, there 🙂 Thanks for reading Habibadanyal!

  16. jstansfeld March 19, 2014 / 6:58 AM

    Great story – quite haunting. The ending was a surprise although not entirely unexpected. You are a winner!
    Cheerio, Jane

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:14 PM

      Thanks so much for reading, Jane! I’m glad that it left enough of an impression for you to take time to share your comment 🙂

  17. Renada Styles March 19, 2014 / 9:37 AM

    That is quite a horror story with a tint of mystery. I like how the tree bled red from the chainsaw mark. And the language throughout really set the tone of the piece.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:15 PM

      This was definitely on the ‘dark’ side of what I tend to write 🙂 Thanks so much for reading and sharing your comment, Renada!

  18. jenbrunett March 19, 2014 / 10:52 AM

    Oooh now THIS was creepy! Love it. Remind me not to cut any of the limbs on the tree in my front yard!

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:19 PM

      Haha, yes, we should be mindful of our trimming, Jen! (I should really be worried… we just finished a whole bunch of tree trimming – a piled-high trailer full 🙂 )

  19. S. J. Paige March 19, 2014 / 1:38 PM

    It’s so interesting reading through everyone’s prompt responses and how many of us immediately wrote our own take on a homicide. I enjoyed that you wrote the tree as a sentient being. It was fun to read.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:21 PM

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, S.J. Many of us did write homicide. I wonder if the dark colors/starkness of the tree played a part? Thanks so much for reading!

  20. ranu802 March 19, 2014 / 3:24 PM

    Janna it’s a great story.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:21 PM

      Thanks for taking time to read it, Ranu!

  21. Michael March 19, 2014 / 7:17 PM

    This was superbly written. I really enjoyed it.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 9:22 PM

      Thanks, Michael – I’m happy you liked the story!

  22. Christine March 19, 2014 / 9:50 PM

    I could read your writing all day. But you know I’m a fan. 🙂 This is a wonderfully crafted story. Your dialog was fantastic, and the slow reveal was delicious.

    • jannatwrites March 19, 2014 / 11:29 PM

      Thank you for the generous and kind compliment, Christine. I appreciate you stopping by to read this story 🙂

  23. Suzanne March 20, 2014 / 5:44 AM

    So fantastically creepy! And what a creative story. Awesome use of the prompts, Janna! 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 20, 2014 / 10:34 PM

      Thanks, Suzanne! It is a bit of a twisted story, but so much fun to write 🙂

  24. atrm61 March 20, 2014 / 6:24 AM

    Ack!Now I don’t think I will look at another tree in my life! 😛 Love where you took me with this one Janna-terrific writing and horrific end(to Hugo and his family) :-)I wonder now what happens to the next family who comes to stay here-at least these people had an idea about this evil man-eater of a tree but the poor sods who come next-tch.tch!

    • jannatwrites March 20, 2014 / 10:38 PM

      Maybe the root killer will take effect before the house is sold 🙂 Thanks so much for reading, Atreyee! Oh, and do watch out for those trees… they aren’t always as innocent as they appear!

      • atrm61 March 21, 2014 / 12:51 AM

        Ha!ha!I like that Janna-one has to be positive,right? 🙂 I was never a tree person-must be why I have this brown thumb-maybe I poison them,lol!

        • jannatwrites March 21, 2014 / 11:19 PM

          Oh I hope not! I love trees- as long as they don’t have a murderous streak 🙂

  25. Esther March 20, 2014 / 8:12 AM

    Eek! I love that you used the picture prompt as the centerpiece of your story. A fun read, if spooky.

  26. The Invisible Geek March 20, 2014 / 8:56 AM

    Oh my! So scary. It reminded me with the tree from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” So well written (Y) 😀

    • jannatwrites March 20, 2014 / 10:40 PM

      I’ve not seen Harry Potter…your comment makes me curious to check it out. I’m glad you stopped by to read my story!

  27. zeudytigre March 20, 2014 / 12:17 PM

    What a great idea! And I love the way you have written it, especially the dialogue.

    • jannatwrites March 20, 2014 / 10:43 PM

      I’m happy to find the dialogue worked for you, Zeudytigre. Thanks for taking time to read it!

  28. EagleAye March 20, 2014 / 3:11 PM

    What an amazing idea! This is so cool. You really captured my imagination with the idea of a killer tree. The back history really sets it up well and makes the story seem historical rather than fiction. Applause, applause!

    • jannatwrites March 20, 2014 / 10:47 PM

      I had hoped it would seem real – I tried to add some details that would make it feel like it could happen (well, aside from the human-eating tree!) Thanks so much for taking time to read and share your comment, EagleAye!

  29. The Midnight Thief March 20, 2014 / 9:21 PM

    That’s so creepy! Growing a killer in your backyard 😮

  30. Imelda March 21, 2014 / 12:37 PM

    Oh, creepy! Your story gave new meaning to family tree. You make good thrillers, Janna.

    • jannatwrites March 21, 2014 / 11:23 PM

      Thanks, Imelda – I’m glad you stopped by to read the story!

  31. Sarah Ann March 30, 2014 / 10:27 AM

    Very creepy. Hope Lars works out what those finger marks are when he returns, too late.

    • jannatwrites March 30, 2014 / 9:14 PM

      Let’s hope so, Sarah Ann… that’s one out-of-control tree!

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