by E A M Harris
Abigail steered her BMW through the gate and braked next to the handpainted sign by the hedge; Ashtoreth’s Grove in rough gothic script draggled counter-clockwise round its board. Stupid to make something so difficult to read, she thought.
She jumped out of her car, took tools and a new, professionally designed sign from the boot, and replaced Ashtoreth’s Grove with Johnson’s Valley. She’d worked for years to buy this place – it was damn well going to have her name on it.
She flung Ashtoreth’s into the boot, it’d make good kindling for the open fire she intended to have, and drove on.
Crawling along what the estate agent had described as her ‘drive’, between her new neighbours’ fields, rebounding from bumps and pot-holes, she dictated a note into her Personal Dictaphone to get estimates for resurfacing. It would cost: the distance was almost two miles.
At its end, the ‘drive’ swooped down into a perfect saucer of a valley with her house in its centre.
It seemed a long time since, journeying home from a conference, she had discovered and coveted this house and the traditional English garden surrounding it. Now it was hers.
The meandering lawn was shaggier than when viewed months ago with the estate agent; the autumnal flower beds straggled. But the house rose aloof from the grey day. Its black and white timbering stood out clean against green surroundings; its slate roof promised protection from all storms. In the front it was overtopped by two trees – the last elms in the county according to the agent.
Pulling up on the gravel by the front door, Abigail noticed, for the first time, the shadow the bare trees cast. In summer the front rooms would be dark.
The tree-surgeon cost extra to stop his chatter about preservation orders, but it was worth it. Investigation had confirmed the gloom cast into the drawing-room by the nearer tree – it had to come down.
As the chain-saw droned, the tree’s branches twitched. Abigail hoped they wouldn’t fall on the roof.
By the time the man stopped for his lunch, a cold wind was whining round the house and both elms were thrashing and groaning. Standing by the farther tree Abigail was surprised at the hiss the wind made in its branches: it almost sounded like ‘sssiiiissster-sssiiiissster’.
The half-destroyed tree moaned.
By evening it was a stump.
After a final cup of tea, after commenting several times that he himself wouldn’t stay in this isolated place, miles from any church, let alone a pub, the tree-surgeon left.
Abigail woke in the small hours to the sound of storm-force winds. At a crack and thud against the front door she tensed with fear, then told herself not to be stupid. No potential burglar would trek out here on a night like this. She rolled out of bed and ran to the window overlooking the front door.
Across the step and filling the doorway lay a branch. The wind must have been behind it for it to reach the step from the remaining elm – as if tree and wind were trying to hit her house.
They missed, she thought, and climbed back into bed.
Hours later, its roots failing, the elm rocked towards the house. Away. Towards. Then, with a sucking gasp, it fell onto the slates above Abigail’s bedroom.
In his summing up the Coroner noted that it was a pity the tree next to the house had been destroyed. It might have caught its falling sister and held it off the roof.
E A M Harris writes poetry and short stories. Her work has appeared in several print and online magazines.