I was born in the city but raised in the suburbs. Both my parents were from the inner city, they worked for long hours and little pay to make sure I would have the life they never did. They moved here in June of 1997, about a month after my seventh birthday. To this day, I can’t help but smile when I think of my dad lugging boxes around whilst doing everything he could to make sure Mum was comfortable. The idea of him, red-faced and flustered but never once complaining. He was like that. Always doing what he could to make those he loved happy.
My childhood was pretty normal by all accounts but one thing has always stuck with me. The tree. It was a huge beech that stood just outside my bedroom window, tall, strong and full of knotholes. I remember how it never seemed to have leaves on it. My dad even got a tree surgeon in to check it over. He looked the tree over top to bottom, he even used some sort of harness and pulley so he could reach the very top. For a long time, I was scared of that tree. Its branches would tap against my window whenever there was the slightest breeze, some nights it would even let out almost human-like moans that would have me screaming for my parents to come in.
Then, one day in late June when I was around seven years old, I came home from my new school to find my dad waiting for me on the front lawn.
“Come with me, kiddo,” he said with a glint in his eye. “I’ve got something to show you.” He took my hand and led me into the back garden. We approached the tree and as we drew closer, I noticed a crude rope ladder hanging down its trunk.
“Look up,” he said, a smile spreading across his face. My eyes followed the knotted rope up and I saw what he was so pleased about. I threw myself into his arms.
“You built me a treehouse! I love you, Daddy!” He threw his head back and laughed.
“I’m glad you like it! I figured that you and the tree could get to know each other better. Want to go up and have a look?” He lifted me above his head and gently placed me in the entrance. I was in love immediately. This wasn’t just some platform, it had walls and a roof, even holes for windows like the portholes on a ship. He must have spent all day making it.
After that, the tree didn’t seem all that threatening. Even the tapping on my window and the moaning now felt like an invitation to come out and play. I’d spend hours in there, playing with my toys, reading comics, you name it. I’ve always enjoyed my own company and having this treehouse was like my fortress of solitude. I wasn’t long before I didn't need to use the ladder to climb in. I’d just shimmy up the trunk using branches and hollows in the wood. I was in kid heaven.
I remember the July of that year being ridiculously warm. Not even hot but humid. I spent a lot of nights just laying in bed sweating. After about a week of this, I decided that I was going to sleep in the treehouse. That way I could at least get the benefit of what little breeze there was. I asked my parents but they refused. They were worried I’d hurt myself by rolling out of the tree in my sleep. I knew I couldn’t spend another night being kept awake by the stifling heat. So I made a plan.
I waited in my room until my parents had gone to bed. I gave them some time to fall asleep before grabbing my duvet, a torch and a few books. I snuck down the stairs, avoiding every creaking floorboard I could. The silence of the house at night seemed to amplify even the slightest noise. I made it to the back door and slowly unlocked it, every moment expecting one of my parents to walk in and catch me. I felt a shiver of excitement move up my spine as I gingerly turned the handle and stepped out into the warm night air.
As soon as I was outside I ran to the base of the tree. I put my things onto my duvet and made it into a makeshift sack. I tied the ropes of the rope ladder to it, scrambled up the trunk and hauled it up after me. I’d made it. I laid out my duvet, turned on my torch and settled down to read. Eventually, the bulb started to dim and I decided to get some sleep.
I awoke a little while later to a squeaking sound coming from above me. This wasn’t particularly unusual; squirrels inhabited the neighbourhood, but this sound was more metallic. I was preparing to go back to sleep when I heard a thump. The thump of something on the branches higher up in the tree. I was immediately wide awake as I heard the scraping of movement along the boughs. This thing sounded big. I grabbed my torch and tried to shine it upwards to see what the thing was but the dying bulb did nothing but highlight the darkness. I was terrified. I pulled my duvet over my head as I heard the noise getting closer and closer. I whimpered to myself, hoping that if I was quiet enough the thing wouldn’t notice me. Suddenly, there was a clatter on the roof of the treehouse and I knew I had to get out. As I scrabbled towards the door I heard a sharp intake of breath from above. When I threw my legs over the edge to climb down I felt a leathery hand brush the top of my head. I immediately ducked and put my foot on a branch I don’t remember being there before. It promptly snapped and I felt a deep pain in my leg as I fell from the tree.
When I hit the ground, the air was knocked out of my lungs. I put my hand to my shin and it came away wet and bloody. As I stared stunned I saw a dark shape descend from the tree. It stood over me and I screamed. Immediately, I saw my parents' bedroom light flick on. When I looked back, the shape was gone. I could feel the branch that had snapped digging into my back so I reached behind me and pulled it out from underneath me. I looked into my hand and screamed again. It wasn’t a branch. It was a piece of bone. A human bone.
Almost immediately my dad burst out of the back door.
“What are you doing out here?!” he shouted, “Are you ok?” He swept me up in his arms and carried me inside. When he saw the blood pouring from my leg he immediately called an ambulance.
The rest of the night was somewhat of a blur. I remember the wound in my leg needing stitches, seven to be precise. The doctor said it could have been much worse. The next morning, my dad came to see me with two serious looking men in suits. Dad said they were policemen. After assuring me that I wasn’t in any trouble they proceeded to ask me a load of questions about the previous night. Every answer I gave they wrote down in tiny notebooks. After that, they thanked us, and left. I asked my dad why they were there but he told me not to worry about it.
I went home later that day. When I got there, I saw that the tree was surrounded by tape. About halfway up there was a large hole cut in the side of it; I could see the tree was hollow. I asked what was happening but my parents wouldn’t tell me. They just made me promise not to go near it for a while. My dad cut it down a few weeks later.
Years went by and I’d often think about the tree. When I was sixteen, I finally asked my folks why they got rid of it. They looked at each other warily and told me to sit down. They told me everything.
Apparently, the tree surgeon that Dad got to look at the tree when we moved in was… not a good guy. He was a drinker and an abuser. My parents had no idea when they hired him. From what I was told, one evening he beat his wife and two children to death. He knew he had to hide the bodies and he remembered our hollow tree. He snuck over late one night and winched himself to the top of the tree and dumped the bodies down the hollow trunk, along with a load of baking soda to disguise the smell. The humid weather spooked him and he came back to top up the makeshift grave with more baking soda. The night I stayed in the treehouse just happened to be the night he came to do it. He’d been waiting for weeks. The bone I broke was the femur of his wife that had poked out of a knothole as the body decomposed. The police had to cut the hole in the trunk to get to them.
Later on I looked up the whole thing on the internet. I found an article on it and what I read sent ice down my spine. What my parents didn’t tell me was that his daughter wasn’t quite dead when she was dumped into the tree. Apparently, she could have been alive for weeks, starving, eyes burning from the baking soda with nothing but rainwater from the occasional rain shower to drink. Her father had beaten her face so badly she couldn’t cry out. All she could do was moan.
Written by Stex85