"You want to what?" Jake asked, not really trusting what he just heard from his boyfriend, Alex.
"I want to go to the Tree of the Dead and see if it really works!" Alex said, bouncing next to him. With tanned skin and slicked back hair, he was irresistibly cute.
Especially when he wanted something from her on again/off again boyfriend.
"Why?" Jake asked, looping an arm around Alex’s waist as they walked through the common area of the school. "Why would you even want to do that?"
"I think it's sad," he said after a moment. "That the Tree of the Dead is out there, I mean. It's supposed to be haunted by all these people, right?"
Jake sighed before launching into the story that his grandfather had told him. He was a local and thus knew the story behind the Tree of the Dead. Deep in the Tanglewood was an enormous dead tree, with huge roots that seemed to have risen from the soil. It resembled a fat man, with two narrow branches up top stretched out wide, and a "head" that bore two holes where crows loved to roost. Not a leaf grew on the depressing thing, nor another tree around it for forty feet. The area around the tree, you see, was a graveyard. Worn headstones with mere names carved into them marked the final resting place of one of San Antonio's darkest and most shameful secrets.
In the early twentieth century, just after the plane was invented, a band of Romani travelers set up camp in the grove. They sang and they danced, putting on a carnival for the local children to come to, earning money to buy food and water from the locals. But as time passed, the Romani lingered... and the people of San Antonio didn't like that.
So, one night, after drinking their fill of beer and liquor, thirty men with hatchets and machetes walked down the path of the Tanglewood, lanterns in hand. They butchered the Gypsies. One man who was simply referred to as the Slasher of San Antonio. was attributed with leading the murder spree. He took each body... man, woman, and child and prepared them.
He took them, live or dead, and nailed them to the fat trunk of the tree. "A tapestry of agony," he called it. "This is what mankind is! When granted choice you always choose the worst!"
The local police investigated the camp when some schoolchildren found it in ruins the next day, carts toppled over and burnt and the horses slaughtered... When they found the tree, the horrible tree... they panicked and ran from the scene back to the station, where they rounded up all the police they could muster and go back to the terrifying display.
The people nailed to the tree were all nailed upside down, their bodies folded and broken into figures like Jesus on the cross. Some were barely alive, knife wounds to their side draining their blood down onto their family. Children and women were nailed together in spots not occupied by the men, forming a horrible image of a tree composed of nothing but the dead and dying.
The police, while cleaning the area up, found an old woman pinned beneath a cart. She'd seen everything and was able to give the names of each person that died that night, as well as the names of their attackers. Some of them were the very police investigating the crime! She was taken to a hospital, where she was cared for until she could walk, albeit with a limp and the help of a cane. The men were rounded up, all denying what they did.
Save for the Slasher of San Antonio. "Yes, I did it. Wasn't it marvelous, the flesh of man hammered together to create one unified image of pain?"
All of the men were sentenced to hang, and the old woman made a request. "Hang them from the tree, the old tree which my friends and family were brutally pinned to."
The judge ordered it so, and the men were taken there the very next day at the crack of dawn. The townspeople gathered to watch the mass hanging, patting the old woman on the shoulder and offering her support. The men pleaded and cried, claiming they were innocent.
"It's not our fault!" Some said, pointing to the Slasher of San Antonio. "He made us do it!"
The San Antonio Slasher had merely laughed. "I merely… encouraged you after you'd all celebrated at the tavern. You chose of your own free will to commit the crimes, just like a man always does when given the chance."
And so, three at a time the men were hung until finally the San Antonio Slasher, and two men flanking him, stood upon the chairs with nooses wrapped tightly around their necks. The two men had begun weeping softly, mumbling apologies. The Slasher, on the other hand, was said to been smiling.
"Before I go," the San Antonio Slasher had called out. "I'll never leave these woods, nor San Antonio! I'll haunt the shadows at night, dog your footsteps, and steal your children while you sleep. You may kill me, but death is just the beginning!"
And with that he was hung, his neck snapping as he cackled a final cry. All thirty men were tossed in a mass grave on the far side of the grove, with the Romani getting buried in a traditional sense, each getting a casket and a Christian funeral. The old woman was grateful, and she said that even though the old man cursed the town, she could change it to where he could only curse the grove.
Before anyone could stop her she pulled a knife from her coat and slit her hand, rubbing a large X across the distended belly of the tree in brilliant crimson. She backed up while the blood sank into the bark but a root, thick and gnarled, shot from the ground and attempted to grab her. She was able to step back, but the root, which ended in a gnarled wooden hand, froze in place.
"It is done," she’d announced to the bewildered crowd. She then turned and called out to the people. "Let none of you dare come to this cursed grove. He is bound here by my blood, and only those who seek him can call upon him."
Jake shook his head as he finished the story. "So you really want to go see the Tree of the Dead. huh, babe?"
"Yeah, we talked about it in our Texas History class. It was supposedly the largest mass murder in San Antonio's history," Alex said, snuggling closer to Jake. "Why don't we go tonight!"
"Tonight? Why not during the day?" Jake asked.
She swatted his arm. "It's always spookier at night! Besides, if you take me there and I get a good scare, you might just get lucky!"
Jake smiled; his boyfriend was a bit of an exhibitionist, so the fact that he might want to fuck in a haunted grove was no surprise to him. His willingness to do it, however, was not as strong as Alex’s desire. Still, with the bedroom eyes, he was giving Jake, his arm trailing down his chest, who was he to argue.
"Alright," Jake said. "I'll take you to the Tree of the Dead."
She jumped up and down, pumping her fist in the air, "Yay!"
Jake didn't feel as enthused as she was, and thought about what could be in store for the night ahead of him.