Roots of Evil

ForestSeeing the young woman standing at the trailhead, Nathaniel could not believe his luck.

Hi there, I don’t usually see other hikers in this part of the forest.
Really, it looks so beautiful I could spend an eternity out here.
Nathaniel thought that was a distinct possibility.
I’m Nathaniel.
I’ve been hiking out here for thirty years, I’d be happy to show you the best trails.

She smiled, and held out her hand.

Laurel. Are you sure I’m not intruding, I’m guessing you usually prefer the solitude?
Not at all, just keep it to yourself so the forest doesn’t fill up with the family picnickers.
We’ll head north, there is a beautiful clearing about five miles away you’ll love.
Cool, led on.

Nathaniel set a brisk pace, despite his advancing years he still found strength amongst the trees but Laurel never faltered as he pressed on up the trail. After ninety minutes, they emerged into the clearing opposite the largest tree Laurel had ever seen in these parts.

It’s so beautiful, Nathaniel, like a little bit of Eden was left here to tempt us.

He pulled a water bottle from his pack and smiled, everyone he brought here had the same reaction. It is beautiful he thought as his eyes fell on the tree.

Let’s take a break.
Ok, you set a cracking pace. I usually leave partners straggling once I stretch out but not today.
Fresh air and regular exercise is the secret to a long life.
Not much of a secret but most people ignore what they know to be true.

She laughed, dropped into the tree’s hollow and leaned back while Nathaniel pondered his next move.

The forest is so lush around this tree, it’s like someone has been cultivating the ground.
Yeah, my favourite spot. I spend a lot time just sitting in that hollow communing with the tree.
You don’t strike me as the hippy tree hugger type, Nathaniel?
No, but it is nice to meet someone who appreciates the power of the forest.
Nathaniel stood and patted the tree trunk, and looked into Laurel’s eyes.
This tree just seems to speak to me, makes me stronger.

He could feel his pulse quicken as he stood over her. Laurel leaned forward to get the water bottle from her day-pack when she felt a sharp pain against the back of her head. Instinctively she rolled on to her back, and brought her arms up to meet the Nathaniel’s next blow and kicked out to push him away.

Nathaniel had mistimed his first strike, and now found himself fighting someone his equal in strength and fast enough to repel his next frenzied attack.

Nathaniel did not set out to become a serial killer, he didn’t even remember why he killed Peggy that lazy Sunday afternoon in 1980. Driving out to the forest for a hike, he saw her standing beneath the overpass and pulled over to offer her a ride. She smiled, threw her bag in the back and hopped in front with him. He remembered thinking he might get laid but the rest of the day is fuzzy.

His next clear memory is standing under the oak tree, Peggy’s lifeless body at his feet. His every nerve ending tingled with excitement, heart pounding and feeling powerful for the first time in his life. But as the euphoria faded he started to panic and buried her in a shallow grave at the base of the tree before running back to his car.

After a week of panicked sleeplessness, Nathaniel returned to the clearing and found scavengers had scattered the remains. He gathered the bones, dug deeply into the soil and reinterred her before collapsing exhausted into the hollow of the tree. A sudden calm enveloped him, he could barely recognise the freshly camouflaged grave and most hikers never travelled to this part of the forest. No one would ever find her he thought and smiled for the first time in weeks.

Nathaniel never understood what drove him to kill so mercilessly for the next three and half decades. Manipulated and cajoled by an ancient power, a black power literally rooted in the fabric of the earth. It existed at the beginning, the temptation of Adam and Eve occurred in its shadow as did the slaying of their son Abel. It compelled the weak-minded and frightened to offer blood sacrifices to their deities and gods then feasted on the bloody harvest themselves.

In simpler times people recognised their power, and religious observance propagated beneath their spreading branches. Trees, they believed, embodied the spirits of life and growth providing fuel, food and shelter to all. They placed food and idolatry at the base of their god-trees in tribute but their priests urged ever greater sacrifices, human sacrifices.

In the 1st Century AD, Roman historian Gaius Cornelius Tacitus described the Germanic practice of human sacrifice. Gathered in sacred groves or under a sacred tree, the pagan priests would offer their bloody sacrifice to appease their gods. The Vikings, Gauls and early Britons all butchered their enemies and kin, sometimes decorating the trees in their bloody remains. The blood flowed into the soil where the tree roots accepted their sacrifice, and the trees whispered their encouragement to everyone listening in the darkness.

Christianity ended deliberate human sacrifice so the trees found new songs to sing, seeding sedition and hatred throughout civilisation. Murder and war continued to feed the beast but people lost sight of the trees, and their part in the bloodshed. We thought the great trees stood passively amidst the self-inflected misery of human existence. The Lone Pine at Gallipoli, the trees of Delville Wood at the Somme and the Poplar of Victory in Stalingrad all flourished in the wake of human carnage. A bloody sacrifice given unknowingly to the trees by the people who heard their silent siren call. The root of all evil has never been money, it’s always been the trees standing silently around us.

Laurel deflected each blow with practiced calm but knew it was only a matter of time before Nathaniel broke through her defence. As he pressed closer she struck out with her legs and crashed Nathaniel’s balls under her heel. He screamed out in agony, dropped his club and fell back against the tree.

Fuckin’ bitch, he howled.
Fuck you Nathaniel.

Laurel leapt to her feet grabbing the club, and swinging with all her strength against Nathaniel’s temple. His head jerked right, and blood sprayed across the ground as he tried to roll away. Laurel was quicker than Nathaniel, and her next strike caught him squarely at the base of his skull. The blow crushed his skull, and he fell face first into the thick underbrush as Laurel pounded his head like a stake into the ground.

Fuck you!
Fuck you!
Fuck you!
Fuck you!

Until finally she stepped back exhausted, breathing rapidly, her heart pounding and without realising it laughing maniacally as she looked at Nathaniel’s shattered skull. She tossed the club aside and slipped back into the tree’s hollow. Laurel felt powerful, and despite the grisly scene a wave of contentment and satisfaction swept over her.

The tree seemed to hold her in a warm embrace, and she lolled her head back against the trunk. She didn’t understand why she felt so happy or why she knew Nathaniel had to be buried beneath the tree. She just knew she had to feed his blood and bones to the forest. She pulled over his backpack, fished out a folding shovel and started to dig into the soil.

I could spend a lifetime out here, she thought, and for a moment thought she heard the tree whisper back.