The tree stands on a mound at the top of the hill.
From this vantage point it has views out across the fields and down towards the lonely row of houses that make up the village.
Up there it’s possible to see everything. There’s nothing that goes unobserved.
It’s form, silhouetted against a backdrop of light and sky, is the first thing I see each morning when I turn from sleep and gaze through the window.
It floats there in the light, suspended. Separate from the soil that roots it to that spot.
“Good morning” I say to it, although I’m not sure why.
The day Dan grew ill, I was up on the hill with the dogs, just walking. That was when I saw what had happened.
One of the low hanging branches had been snapped off and a ragged stump lay exposed to the air, a clear liquid oozing from it that was tacky to the touch, like the pus from a wound that stays damp and will not heal. It smelled green.
The sight of it was enough to cause my heart to thump in my ears and my breath to quicken.
All I could think was “Who’d be stupid enough to do such a thing?”
It seemed unbelievable.
There’s a lore around these parts which keeps a tree like this safe.
Touch it or harm it in any way, or so they say, and you’ll suffer the consequences.
So when I saw that damaged branch, all ripped and ragged like that, it made me shudder and sent me flying down the hill. The dogs, sensing my panic, howled and charged ahead of me the whites of their eyes glinting with contagious fear.
When I stumbled through the door, I made Sarah jump and cry out.
“Jesus Mickey! What you bursting into the place like that for? Scared the life out of me, so you did.”
She was standing by the fireplace and had been getting a fire ready when I bounded into the room and made her jump. Crumpled paper lay scattered on the floor at her feet where she’d dropped it in her fright.
As she busied herself picking it up, I caught sight of Dan.
He was sitting by the fireplace in the big chair, a blanket covering his knees his head propped up with a cushion and his eyes were boring into me.
That was when I knew. He was the one that had snapped the branch.
Somewhere in the background I heard Sarah muttering away at me asking what it was that would have me rushing in like that, but I said nothing.
I just stood, transfixed by the sight of Dan.
I didn’t need to ask if what I had guessed was true. He held my gaze and nodded gently, then closed his eyes and proceeded to sleep, a calm, certain smile on his face.
Already his skin had a strange, pale greeness to it. Like the green in an apple when you cut it open. The green between the white of the flesh and the waxy layer of peel. An imperceptible green.
Even when Sarah lit the fire I could smell it, that green. A smell of snapped bark and resin.
In the days to come, it seemed to fill the room and I understood what it was. Understood where it came from and what it meant.
As the days passed it grew more pungent and Dan grew more calm.
“I think I should go fetch the doctor” Sarah worried.
But Dan refused.
“Just let me be. There’s nothing he can do.”
So we let him be.
Each day I’d climb the hill and examine the branch. It continued to ooze, the resin failing to harden. And the more it secreted, the weaker Dan became, until there was nothing more to give.
Sarah found him one morning cold and still, a calm smile on his face and the smell of green now gone from the house.
Up on the hill the resin had already started to harden over the wound.