The Alder Tree

Dwyer’s Hollow is idyllic, peaceful, and nothing ever happens. But for such a quiet, unassuming little town, its roots are buried deep in blood and darkness. Catch up on the story here.

drawing by me

drawing by me

         Bryony shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her coat as the wind picked up. Zander was quiet as he walked along, the snow crunching under their boots. It was strange to be walking these familiar streets with him again, Bryony thought. Years ago, they scampered up and down the roads of the Hollow, dodging adults running errands, dripping ice cream on the hot pavement, laughing at the stodgy old men and women who strolled down Main Street like it was the Champs Elysee. Most of the town itself in the Hollow was within easy walking distance. Darkmoor was a bit more of a trek, but Bryony remembered peering through the ivy-veiled iron gates at the large stone house, giggling with trepidation as she and Zander recounted stories. She shivered.
         “Cold?” Zander asked, looking down at her.
         “Not really. This place still gets to me,” she laughed, embarrassed.
Zander shoved up the sleeve of his shirt and grinned as he revealed the goose bumps that ran up his pale forearm.
         “The Hollow has a hard time letting go,” he said, jerking his head towards the giant tree that hunched in the center of the square, like some kind of ghoul guarding the town.
         Bryony nodded; December brought all of the old stories to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
         The ancient alder tree, centerpiece of the Hollow, was stark and devoid of foliage this time of year. Several families, fleeing the panic and confusion of the Salem Witch Trials, founded Dwyer’s Hollow in February of 1692. Thinking they were safe from the persecution and superstition, they built their small town and began to have families and farmsteads. They set up their village council—the Conclave—and it seemed that the idyllic town was safe from the dark terrors of Salem.
         Their peace lasted until the night of the Winter Solstice in 1693. The gruesome slayings began and continued every month on the night of the new moon—the darkest nights. The gristly carnage seemed to be more the work of beasts than men, but the ritualistic nature hinted at a darker intelligence. The Conclave was outraged, the town in panic. One of the founding members of the Conclave began his own, secret research into the lore and superstitions of his homeland—Ireland. Word began to spread that these attacks were neither man nor beast, but an unholy combination—lycanthropes. Werewolves. The townspeople, perhaps fed by the panic in Salem, several mourning the loss of friends, neighbors, and even relatives to the Trials, believed. Some feared the people of the Hollow had been cursed for leaving Salem—perhaps even that one in their midst was a real witch, visiting this horror upon them. A town wide hunt began—neighbors spied on each other and families were rife with distrust.
         The day after the Winter Solstice of 1694, the Conclave captured the Lukan family and all their kin—claiming to have seen them shed their wolf’s skins just before dawn. The deep sleep that allowed the capture of the Lukans and their overwhelming weariness bore evidence that they spent the night running in wolf form—gorging on human flesh. Every male was flayed, drawn, quartered and their bodies hung from the alder tree in the town square. Alder trees are members of the birch family and everyone knew birch was harmful to werewolves. The Conclave hung the animal pelts found in the Lukan homes on the tree as well, after piercing them with nails, festooning them with wild roses and dousing them in wolfsbane. They humanely slit the women’s throats—many thought they were merely the mates of the men—and hung them from the tree as well.
         Every year on the Winter Solstice, from 1695 onward there was a festival. The townspeople wore wolf masks and robes in the night and lit a great bonfire at the foot of the Alder tree where birch wood and wolfsbane burned—all to remind the people of the scourge they faced and defeated. The next day the Alder tree bore lights, glass snowflakes and clear glass orbs filled with wild-rose petals and wolfsbane. The festival drew visitors each year—those interested in the paranormal, the occult, and a smattering of journalists and historians. After the murder of the O’Connell family by the undiscovered serial killer, the festival reached new heights of fame as crime buffs and amateur detectives pointed out the links between that murder and the so-called werewolf killings. The papers tried to sensationalize the story—calling the murderer the “Wolf of Dwyer’s Hollow” or the “Wolf-Man”. However, the residents of the Hollow knew that their werewolves were in the vein of Salem’s witches—the unfortunate result of superstition and the panic of a mob.
         “Hard to believe what a little fear can do,” Zander said as they skirted the great tree.
         Bryony never felt any fondness for the town square or the gnarled tree. Some people thought it was pretty—especially during the festival. But it only made Bryony think of blood and burning.
         “I still remember sneaking out here that one night to see if we could speak to the ghosts,” Bryony shuddered dramatically at the memory.
         “We had half the candles lit in the witches’ circle before my father found us,” Zander’s lips twitched in a half-smile.
         “And we thought we’d raised one of the Lukans when he appeared from behind the tree like that,” Bryony said.
         “I remember I didn’t care how long he yelled at us because anything was better than if we actually raised a ghost,” Zander shook his head.
         “We were trouble weren’t we?” Bryony cocked her head to look up at him.
         Zander snorted and Bryony caught a brief glimpse of the boy she remembered. Suddenly he paused, a hand on her arm.
         “Speaking of trouble…”
         Bryony looked up. Standing in the shadows cast by the alder tree’s skeletal, grasping branches was a figure, dressed in dark clothes that made it nearly impossible to distinguish him from the shifting shadows.

——————————

         Bryony recognized the faded black jean jacket a moment before the figure vanished from view, striding away down one of the alleyways.
         “It’s only Connor,” she said, trying to still her thundering heart.
         Seeing him lurking behind the tree after their eerie conversation made her realize how jumpy she was. Zander stared after Connor, a strange look on his face.
         “Connor?” he asked.
         “Connor O’Malley—he’s Emmaline’s nephew from the city. He’s here for punishment—he’s been working at the café all summer and then his mom decided to enroll him at the high school,” she said. “He’s not a bad kid…just a little undisciplined, I guess. He was a good worker all summer but the last few months, he’s skipped out on shifts or showed up late. His attitude was never what you would call friendly, but we got along okay.”
         “You think he’s into drugs or something?” Zander raised a dark eyebrow.
         Bryony laughed, “Drugs, in the Hollow? How long do you think that would last? I remember Dylan Jenkins was caught with a joint my senior year and you would have thought he had a meth lab. You’re forgetting what it’s like here,” she nudged his arm.
         He didn’t smile back, staring instead at the toes of his leather shoes. She noticed suddenly that, simple as his clothes were, they looked expensive. Bryony crushed the tendrils of jealousy that crept up. Zander’s family always had money—now that his parents were gone, he likely had much more. Losing parents was nothing to envy.
         “I didn’t expect to come back,” he said suddenly, looking up from his feet. “If my mother and father…well, there was Darkmoor and it’s been vacant for years, it’s about time someone did something with it.”
         Bryony thought he sounded like he was trying to convince himself; she didn’t respond.
         “It’s bigger than I remember. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” his laugh sounded forced.
         “It must be strange, living there. Even if all the ghosts are gone,” she remembered his words in the diner.
         “I think,” he hesitated, looking towards the edge of town where the road soon turned into a gravel ribbon. “I think it’s strange because it feels like coming home.”

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10 thoughts on “The Alder Tree

  1. This is really, really good. The mythology was superb – absolutely. Reminded me quite a bit of Heathens, with the old tree and the ancient, un-Christian festivals. Can’t wait to find out more about Zander and Darkmoor, and wondering what Connor has to do with it all…

    My only comment would be that the description of the alder tree and the Solstice is quite long in the middle of this scene; might be worth breaking it up a tad more with conversation and action? Not sure. Beautiful writing but took me out of the moment a little too long. Otherwise, flawless!

    • I’m glad you liked the mythology—your Heathens pinterest board gave me so much inspiration after I wrote this scene, too. Especially the Beltane fires!

      I think you’re right—when I originally wrote it, it was just writing the history for myself. I meshed most of it into the conversation, but I guess not as well as I could. I will work on it–thanks so much for the feedback!

  2. I do love the idea of something hideous being celebrated in such a pretty way. Very chilling. And I wonder what’s up with Connor… missing shifts? Perhaps he’s feeling sleeeepy from some late night romps…

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