This story came to me almost all at once. I hope it makes sense to readers too! As usual the stories must be no more than 2000 words, and they have a photo and three words to "inspire" the stories, which must be written within sixty hours. (I have, oh, 57 to spare, so I have time to revise if necessary.
Anyway, the words are "Album", "Bizarre" and "Perspiring" and as usual too any form of the words are acceptable. The photo is apparently of some sort of wishing icon in Europe, and that's what ALL of the stories so far are about, so voting will probably be fiece considering how pointed the photo part of the prompt is. Ready?
Ignoring his protest, she stroked his thigh, making him groan. Clarissa knew that was too close to the full moon to be trying to seduce Chase this way, but a naughty little part of her wondered. What would it would feel like if his bones began to lengthen and he started to sprout fur, to change while insi-
Of course the book was a failure, Chase was my problem in the first place. God damn Chase.
I'd had a crush on him since the 8th grade, and he finally noticed me in 11th. We went to homecoming together, and it felt like all my dreams were coming true. The feeling didn't last, though, because two weeks later, just days after I'd printed out pictures of Homecoming for my photo album, he was caught with Alison McCreary at Ben Long's party.
If he'd only kissed her I might have forgiven him. But they weren't kissing. Even that literary whore Clarissa would have blushed if she'd seen what I'd walked in on.
Chase tried to apologize later, but I didn't want to hear it. I mean, really, what could you say to excuse yourself from accidentally forgetting you were dating someone and screwing another girl at a party? He was now dating her, of course.
After letting myself stew over it for a week or so, I tried to find distractions from it all. In so many different ways, really. None of them worked, though, because I'd almost get to a happy place and then the memory of seeing Alison under him at the party would surface and blot everything else out. Reading urban fantasy porn as escapism was attempt number 67. Number one had been sending that page of my album through Dad's paper shredder.
Maybe it was because it was Halloween, but after the werewolf story, I knew what I had to do. If I couldn't be happy with Chase, Alison damn well wasn't going to be either. Going back inside, full of the pleasant fire of determination, I gathered up my supplies and jumped on my bike.
I knew exactly where I was headed, and I should have done it a week ago, just like Kenna and Hunter told me to. Back when they made the suggestion I thought I was a bigger person than that, but it turned out that I wasn't above revenge after all. A visit to the Judas tree was the answer to my problem.
From a distance the first thing you noticed about the Judas tree was the stump next to the trunk. Part of the tree, actually. Once the tree had been a set of Siamese twins, but one of the trunks had gotten diseased, so someone had hacked the sick half away to save the rest over a hundred years ago. The stump was no mere humble reminder of a tree's better days, though. It had a sinister look to it now, and the coins sticking out of it resembled nothing so much as the raised scales of some prehistoric beached sea creature. It was only as you walk towards it that you noticed that the scales were in fact metal, coins. Malicious offerings.
There were always thirty coins. From what I had been told, and in fact could see on the tree itself, more than thirty people had availed themselves of the Judas tree's dark breakup magic, but if someone took the time to count the coins, there were always thirty. People said that as time went on some of the coins worked themselves deeper into the stump, which was probably true. But how that meant only thirty were visible at a time, I couldn't tell you.
The stump was an ugly thing, when you came right down to it. The living part of the tree on the other hand, was much more lovely. In bloom it had rich pink flowers, but now in October it was bare. People didn't come to the tree to admire the flowers, though. No, it was the bark that was of interest: it held the name of dozens of lovers. Many of the names were crudely carved, but some of the names had a scrolling ornate look to them, as if they had been placed there with a great deal of care. Some of the pairs of names were surrounded by hearts that were quite ironic.
The irony, of course, was that every pair names on the tree represented a couple who did not stay together, which was the tree's spiteful gift to the lovelorn. In my high school, people like to tease couples and tell them that they would they did something to piss the teaser off. A lot of people acted like the threat was hollow, but deep down, I think most people did truly fear that they might come upon the tree and see their name there.
And it wasn't just students, some of the names had been carved by vindictive ex wives, ex-husbands, ex-somethings, stalkers, and shy adults still too cowardly to ever do more than long for the object of their affections to suddenly become available.
As the legend went, you had to do two things: the first was, with malice in your heart, carve the names of soon to be doomed lovers into the bark. The second was to pound a coin into the stump beside the tree as an offering.
When I slipped the coin out of my pocket, it shone in the autumn light, more silvery than it had looked when I'd scooped it off my dresser. No one told me which order you did things, so I took my hammer out and pounded it into the stump. I could almost swear that another coin sank from view while I worked, but it might have been the sun in my eyes playing tricks.
That done, I picked up the knife my brother had given me before he left for college, and examined the tree. I found a bare spot just barely within reach, and began to carve the C first. By the time I was done I was perspiring, and my back and arms ached from having spent that much time reaching up. Chase and Alison's names were neither the neatest or messiest there, and I left with a bitter lightness in my step, satisfied that I'd done the only thing I could to get revenge.
The next morning seemed like any other, at least until I got to school. The hallways hummed with whispers, and I felt happy when I finally heard someone say "Alison." I looked forward to someone blurting out the details of their break up.
But it wasn't to be.
Instead, as I slid into my seat during first period, I noticed that Mrs. Creek looked like she was barely holding back tears. As soon as the last person sat, she sighed and addressed us. "I'm afraid that there was an accident last night. Chase Holt and Alison McCreary were in a car wreck-"
She didn't get any farther than that before someone else who hadn't known about the accident already asked her if they were okay. She shook her head slowly. "They think Chase will be okay, just a few broken bones, but Alison is in Intensive Care. Things...they don't look good."
I sat in class, and wondered if how terrible a person I was showed on my skin. It was all my fault, all because I'd decided that they needed to break up too. Had I been too full of malice when I carved the names? Was the coin supposed to have come afterwards and I'd somehow bizarrely intensified the spell by doing things in the wrong order? That hardly seemed possible. I couldn't be the only one to give the coin first, and no one had ever been hurt, physically anyway, before.
By the end of the day my guilt was threatening to swallow me whole: after lunch Alison's brother had been pulled out of class to go to the hospital "just in case."
We all knew in case of what.
I felt more than half-crazy with remorse by the time I got home. But I had a plan. I was going to fix everything. My parents didn't even know I'd gotten home before I'd darted into the basement for my bag, and left again.
The tree seemed to glower at me in the distance as I pedaled up to it. Had anyone else ever come to take back their misdeed? I thought not, but I had to try. Chase and Alison didn't deserve what I'd done. No one deserved that.
"I'm, um, I've changed my mind," I muttered, not really feeling strange to be talking to a tree.
If it had been a fairytale, the stump would have immediately spit out the coin, and the broken bark smoothed over. But it wasn't, so nothing happened.
"I'm calling it off, okay?" I asked, looking down at the stump. I thought I saw my coin, and tried to pull it out. It didn't budge.
This wasn't supposed to be happening. I poked at the coin with the tip of the knife, and barely felt it as the sharp edges of another one bit into my skin.
"I'm sorry!" I wailed, tears streaming down my face. "I didn't mean it!"
Looking at the tree, leaning over the remains of its twin, I think I finally understood what made people so sure that its curse would work: it was forever separated from its other half, and looked so unhappy. Why wouldn't it inflict that on others?
I shook my head, strangely convinced that the tree was merely trying to distract me from my task. Determined anew, my fingers scrabble against the stump, and I couldn't pry the coin back out. If it was even the right coin. The coin wasn't going to come out, I was pretty sure of it. So I turned to the tree's trunk instead.
Frenzied, I attacked the bark where I’d so happily carved the day before, using my knife to score over Chase and Alison's names again and again. Eventually the knife slipped and gashed my thumb under where that other coin had already cut it. I ignored the pain until the slipperiness of my blood made it too hard to hold the knife any longer. The bark was a smeared mess of lines and a red wetness I didn't want to think about. Maybe it was a good thing, though, a blood offering to show I was serious instead of a mere quarter.
When the knife fell from my aching fingers, I was startled to see that the cuts on my thumb and palm looked almost the same as the C I'd carved the day before. That had to mean something.
By the time I got home, my sweater was red to the elbow, and my mother screamed. I didn't whimper or cry out once on the way to the e.r., though, because I was gone on a feeling of serenity. I'd erased my mistake, and everything would be okay.
Three Days Later
It took seventeen stitches to close my wound, and all I could think about was how white the bandage looked on my hand as I stood in the cemetery during Alison's funeral. It should have been dirty, dirty to match the new darkness in my heavy heart.
"Got my hands full, so full of trouble. There's something evil when it's double" - Starflyer59, Something Evil