An unfamiliar noise woke her and she lay still for a few minutes and hoped she could go back to sleep. Her warm bed and soft mattress felt like a lover's caress to her body. She didn’t want to get up.
Alongside of her, Hank, her husband of 15 years slept a peaceful slumber.
Almost back to sleep, she heard the noise again. This time it woke the dogs.
She threw her covers aside, searched the floor for her slippers and hurried out of her bedroom.
“Hush, you’ll wake daddy.” Being childless Sally and Hank doted on their pets.
Now that the critters were quiet she was wide-awake and decided to stay up. She put three tea bags in her favorite teapot, filled it with water and placed it in the microwave. While the tea was making she rinsed a mug, added sugar and turned on her computer.
“Might as well make the most of it.” Sally spoke to the grinning canids.
She let the dogs out the back door into their fenced in yard, and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and use the toilet. When she got back to the kitchen the dogs were going crazy. She walked out on the back porch and saw they were barking at something in front of the house.
“Probably an opossum,” she mumbled to herself.
She called them back into the house and settled them down with a treat. She knew it was no less than bribery but it worked. They forgot about the nocturnal wild life and set to work on their biscuits.
Sally had planned to sleep until 8 A.M., and then get her chores finished so she could spend the rest of the day in front of her computer. She wrote short stories.
When she sat down the monitor showed 5:13 A.M. and she heard the horrible noise again. She gulped down the fragrant hot tea, sighed, got up and went to the front door.
As she walked onto the front porch, she noticed the moon; it shone through the fog and gave everything an eerie glow.
She heard it again. She stood on the steps and rested her hand on the banister. A guttural moan came from the low area around the creek. Icy fingers ran up her spine and a blanket of dread covered her imagination. The moan sounded human.
The air turned chilly and reached to her bones.
She walked back into her house and put on a long fleece housecoat. She grabbed a flashlight off the kitchen table and thought about taking one of the dogs, but decided against it. It was so wet out and she wasn’t up to bathing a critter today.
The fog lay thick in the low areas and looked like mammoth monsters ready to pounce. Sally pulled her robe tight around her body and armed with only a flashlight she made her way down the path to investigate.
Not far from her front door, and the creek, stood a huge oak tree. The tree was a perfect shape of a horse. She remembered such a tree from her childhood where she daydreamed hours away.
Under the tree, she’d found different sizes and shapes of boulders.
The story told to her, Indian Scouts used the soft young trees to mark their trails. They’d go ahead and look for land to hunt and fish. They’d bend the young trees in the direction they wanted the rest of their tribe to follow. The trees grew into the shape of a horse.
A historian from the University told her a wild story about her property. Allegedly, the rocks under the tree marked a burial site from a mass murder.
In the 1700's, North Georgia was Indian country. Between 1790 and 1830 white settlers', greedy for land, stole Native American land and did their best to destroy an entire race of people. Thanks to people like Andrew Jackson and not enough people like Davy Crockett, the land theft, enslavement and killing reached a crescendo.
Handed down stories told something like that happened on Sally’s property.
She discovered the 7 acres of land her home sat on had not been lived on in many years but had been used for pasture. She wondered if it had anything to do with the murders.
When they first moved she was so happy to have another Horsey Tree.
Last week they fenced it in, dug a fishpond around it, and made sure not to disturb the roots. She took the boulders from under the tree and used an electric pump to make a waterfall. At Christmas she planned to decorate the tree with colored bulbs.
Sally thought the strange sounds came from the creek. She saw movement in the beam of her flashlight, maybe a stray cat or puppy. People always dropped their unwanted pets off out here in the country. They had a whole house full of other people's pets.
She should have put her boots on, it snowed and rained a lot this winter and the ground was mushy. Her flimsy bedroom slippers were already soaked.
It was hard for her to get through the bamboo and wild roses she’d planted and she wished she’d called her husband. The ground heaved as if it were alive.
Sally’s heart pounded and her breath came in erratic spurts. Her mind set on getting back to her warm, safe house and waking Hank.
Something grabbed her ankle; she screamed, jerked her foot away and tried to run. She managed to get a few feet when something grabbed the bottom of her housecoat. Sally fell and razor sharp nails clawed at her exposed legs. If she could make it to the Horsey Tree, she’d be safe. She rolled onto her stomach and managed to get on her knees, but not before talons raked across her chest and cut through her housecoat. She could tell the cuts were deep. The metallic smell of blood assaulted her senses and fear surged through her body like a freight train. She struggled to her feet but not before the skin from her right kneecap was shredded and sharp nails dug into the exposed bone and cartilage.
Sally screamed pitifully and as she tried to get up more claws grabbed at her torn housecoat and her bleeding limbs. She barely made it to the Horsey Tree. By then, she was beyond hysterical.
She shouted as loud as she could and hoped the dogs would hear her. “Hank, help me!”
Relief washed over her when she heard the dogs barking, they would wake Hank.
After what seemed like a long time, she heard the front door open and saw Hank step out on the porch.
"Hank, I’m over here. Please help me.” Sally remembered the flashlight in her pocket and used it as a beacon.
"What are you doing?” Still half asleep, he thought she was working in her gardens. The dogs were going crazy and he couldn’t make out what she was saying.
She could just barely see him under the porch light.
"I’m over here on Horsey Tree. Send Bruno over, something’s out here, go back in the house and call Sam. Hurry!" Sam was their sheriff and a close friend.
Hank put all the dogs but Bruno in the house and shut the door. He could barely make out what she was saying but he thought she wanted Bruno. He sent Bruno out and headed back in for his boots and coat. He wished Sally would sleep at night like most people but as long as he’d known her she’d been a night rambler. He figured he’d better go see about her, she may be hurt.
Sally called out to Bruno and when the big dog got under the tree, he started to whimper. Sally shone her light on Bruno but couldn’t see anything, just frenzied movement in the damp leaves under her dog. “Go back boy, go back to daddy.”
It was too late. He let out a heart-wrenching howl and something wet and warm splattered Sally’s face. When she realized it was Bruno’s blood, she let out a pitiful gasp as her beloved pet disappeared into the soft ground.
Sally could see Hank in the front yard but he had left the dogs in the house. She was weak from terror and blood loss and her hold on the tree was feeble.
“Listen to me Hank, don’t come out here.” Sally tried her best to calm down. Now she worried for her husband.
“There’s something out here and it’s killed Bruno, I’m okay, I’m on the Horsey Tree and it can’t reach me. Did you call Sam?” She prayed he could hear her.
“No I didn’t call Sam, but I will. Are you okay? What’s out there?”
“I’m okay as long as I stay on the tree. Go back in the house and call Sam. Tell him to bring help. But please don’t come back out here.” Sally didn’t tell Hank she was hurt afraid he’d rush out to her.
After he called Sam, Hank quickly grabbed the meat clever off the kitchen counter and put it in his coat pocket. With shaky hands, he loaded his rifle. He walked down the steps and hurried for the Horsey Tree.
Now Sally was dizzy and afraid she would pass out and fall off the tree.
“Hank please go back in the house there’s something down there. It’ll grab you.” Her worry for Hank gave her strength. “If you won’t go back then hurry up and jump up here with me before it gets you.” Sally held out her bloody arm to her husband. Her tattered housecoat was soaked with her own blood.
When he got close to the tree, Hank handed the rifle over to his wife. He jumped as high as he could and caught a low branch. Then he hauled his body up so his legs could reach the tree.
Sally smiled as her husband’s body came close to her. He was almost safe on the Horsey Tree when his foot slipped out from under him. Sally tried with all her might to hold onto her husband. The fabric of his coat slipped from her hand and he landed on his stomach. He threw his left arm out to break the fall and something grabbed it. His arm was pulled into the soft soil.
A fierce pain went through his wrist. He screamed.
Hank tried to get free but whatever held his arm was strong. He vomited and nearly passed out. The pain was unbearable. He remembered the meat cleaver in his coat pocket. With his right hand, he brought it down swiftly to chop his left arm off below the elbow. He hoped he could escape to save his wife.
Frantic, Sally tried to reach Hank’s right arm and drag him back onto the tree with her, but the unseen forces were strong. She watched as her husband’s blood pumped into the churning earth. The stump of his arm looked like a fountainhead spraying colored water. She prayed and begged for intervention, but Hank followed Bruno into the wet dirt.
The sheriff’s car pulled into the front yard. As soon as he got out of the car, he heard the screams. They came from the Horsey Tree. Sam and his deputy ran over to help just in time to see Hank disappear.
By the early morning light, Sam could see a badly hurt and bleeding Sally holding on to the tree.
As Sam watched in horror, his deputy followed Hank into the carnivorous dirt. He struggled to get loose but the frenzy coming from the ground was too much and as he let out a pitiful wail, he was consumed.
Sam managed to jump up onto the Horsey Tree. It took all his strength to hold Sally back. From loss of blood and watching her husband die Sally moaned and weaved like a deranged woman as she beat at Sam with her fist and almost knocked them both off the tree.
Sam fought to hang onto her. With one hand, he fired his gun into the wet soil. Hank and the deputy were gone. Right before Sam’s eyes, they were shredded and pulled into the ground. In his need for action, Sam fired round after round into the soft soil.
Luckily, his cell phone was still clipped to his belt.
Sam called to arrange for help. “Don’t come out here, we’ve already lost Cory and Hank. Get us a helicopter, they’ll have to lift us off this tree. I can’t explain to you now but you must follow my orders.”
The wet soil under the tree gurgled with pureed flesh and blood. A river of scarlet flowed into the pond and through the plastic hose and was pumped over the boulders. A cascade of red ran down the hill and into the creek.
Later that morning a helicopter pulled Sally and the sheriff out of the tree. They flew Sally to a near-by hospital where she underwent extensive surgery. Her wounds puzzled the doctors, and their only witness, the sheriff, was reluctant to talk.
Sally’s pets and possessions were taken to neighboring farms and kept until she was relocated.
The part of history no one knew about the land was the curse put on that very tree and the land around it. The curse was any person who disturbed the graves would bring about demons. The evil spirits would rise up from the creek to guard the graves.
When Sally and Hank built the pond under the Horsey Tree and moved the boulders, they angered the spirits.
The reason for the curse a tribe of Cherokee making camp along the creek stayed for a while because it was a bad winter. The young men went to hunt for food, and left the women and children in the care of the elders. While they were gone, a group of white men found the camp.
The men raped, tortured and killed them all. When the braves returned to find the bloody massacre they were so angst-ridden, they called up the evil spirits. The curse was to keep people away from the graves of their loved ones. They buried their dead close to a young bent tree and used boulders to mark the graves.
Sally left the property surrounded by an 8-foot cyclone fence with concertina wire at the top, and with warning signs posted all around.
The story in the newspaper told about a toxic dump, which was enough to keep most people out. No one would believe the truth.
Sally found another home but not near any trees, creeks or rocks. Although her new home looked nothing like the place she lived before, she was still afraid.
She knew things now, things better left buried. Whenever she saw a flower, tree or blade of grass she wondered what was buried below.
The Horsey Tree still stands today. The last heard a group of students from the university wanted to do a study about the tree. They only needed permission from the owner.
Copyright © 2002 by Susan Kingsolver