The Nothing Tree
I was twelve years old when I first saw the nothing tree.
Our neighbours at the time were Mister and Misses Ogawa, a Japanese couple who took a shine to me, as their daughter, Ami, and I were particularly good friends.
To be honest, Ami Ogawa and I were almost inseparable; we walked to and from school together, sat next to each other in class, helped each other with homework after school, and generally spent as much time together as we possibly could. The pair of us would recoil in horror if anyone brought up the subject of us being girlfriend and boyfriend. We would fiercely deny such a ridiculous notion, even though we both knew it was not a million miles away from the truth.
One Sunday morning, Ami arrived at my house to tell me her parents were going to visit her grandfather who lived out in the countryside.
“Mum and Dad say you can come with us,” she said, “Do you want to? Do you?”
I told her I really wanted to go with her and would ask my parents if it would be OK. Ami squealed with delight and ran to tell her parents I would be joining them. My parents gave me permission without a second of hesitation. I ran up to my room to get changed, as my mum called Mrs. Ogawa to say thanks and to ask what time I would be returning home.
Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in the back of Mr. Ogawa’s car with a giggling Ami as we started our journey out of the city.
Ami’s grandfather lived in an old farmhouse, several miles away from the nearest town and neighbour; totally isolated and flanked on three sides by dense woodland. As our car pulled into the driveway, Ami became animated with uncontainable glee.
“Look!” she said, squeezing my hand. “Isn’t it beautiful? Do you want to explore the woods with me?”
Sadly, I didn’t share her enthusiasm. There was something about this ramshackle house at the edge of the woods that made me feel apprehensive, perhaps even a little frightened. Two of the upstairs windows were cracked, while the roof lacked tiles in several places. It looked like the perfect location for a haunting, or a dwelling for a family of murderers or cannibals, certainly not a place where I felt I could have fun and enjoy myself. I kept all of these thoughts to myself, instead telling Ami that I would love to go exploring with her.
“We are going to have so much fun,” she said with a wink. “Just you wait and see.”
Ami’s grandfather was a plump old man with a shock of white hair and a smile that challenged Ami’s for its wideness. Some of the fears I held inside started to fade, as he was definitely no monster. He seemed to be a very warm and kind man, one with whom I would be happy to spend time.
The very second introductions were over, Ami dragged me back outside, so we could begin our exploration of the woodland. I was led around the west side of the house, through an open gate, and into her grandfather’s spacious back garden. She let go of my hand and ran towards the far end. I followed at speed in an attempt to catch up with her. At the rear of the garden stood a small shed and two tall apple trees, between which Ami dashed and disappeared from view. Panting heavily, I stopped at the two trees and called out for her.
“Keep walking straight,” came her reply. “Come and find me.”
I walked beyond the trees and followed a path that soon ended at a high, vine-covered wall. Set inside the wall of crumbling bricks stood a faded-blue, wooden door. I heard Ami’s voice from beyond, calling for me:
“Come on, slowcoach. I’ve something to show you.”
I pushed open the door so I could follow after her. I could see that the path continued, leading deep into the woods. The fears that had started to disappear, came flooding back, making me freeze in my tracks. My mind started to fill with images of horrible things lurking behind the tall trees, things that would grab me as I walked past and pull me into the dark.
“Come on!” shouted Ami from nearby. “Come and see what I’ve found!”
I took a deep breath and followed the path.
After a few minutes, I arrived at a small clearing and found Ami sitting cross-legged with her back against the trunk of the tallest tree I had ever seen, an ancient colossus that stretched ever upwards. Looking up towards its highest branches made me feel dizzy. Ami shot to her feet and came to stand by me.
“This is the nothing tree,” she said. “My grandpa reckons it’s hundreds of years old. Maybe even the oldest tree in the whole world.”
“The nothing tree?” I asked, “Is that even a real name?”
“That’s the name my grandpa gave it,” she replied with a shrug. “No one knows its real name. Grandpa said since people know nothing about it, then ‘nothing tree’ is as good a name as any.”
“What does its fruit taste like?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Grandpa says the tree has never had any.”
“So what’s that up there?” I said, pointing to a branch not so far above our heads.
Ami followed my finger and when she saw the fruit, her mouth dropped open in astonished surprise. There, on a low branch, hung a fruit the size of a cooking-apple, a sickly pink in colour.
“Wow,” said Ami. “I bet it tastes delicious!”
Looking at its colour, I reckoned that the taste would be nothing less than disgusting. This didn’t seem to bother Ami though, she was determined to plunder the tree of its singular burden and sample its wears for herself. I had learned overtime to never attempt to dissuade Ami once she had her heart set on something. Once an idea had been formed in her mind, there was no turning back for her, no matter the consequences. Following her instructions, I crouched down so she could straddle my shoulders. When she was in position, I slowly and steadily got to my feet, and then walked gingerly forward.
“Closer, closer, closer…stop!”
I did as instructed and waited for my next set of orders.
“Damn it,” she hissed in frustration, “I can’t…quite…reach…it…”
I changed my position to counter-balance Ami’s wriggling and stretching.
I raised myself on tip-toes to try and help Ami reach her goal.
Then came her scream.
It wasn’t a sound of pain, but a sound born from terror.
We tumbled to the ground in a heavy heap. I hurriedly disentangled myself from her and asked if she was OK. Ami sat up and looked at her left hand, her eyes wide, her face lacking the faintest hint of colour.
“The fruit…” she whispered. “It felt….”
“Felt what?” I asked.
“It…It felt like skin. Like a person’s face. Like it’s alive!”
She rubbed her left hands on the leg of her jeans and shakily got to her feet.
“Let’s go. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Ami started back towards the house without saying another word. I stood up and made after her. Before leaving the clearing, I looked back towards the tree.
My breath caught in my throat.
The fruit had grown, perhaps double its original size.
Not only that, but its colour had softened. It now had the colour of skin.
I ran from the clearing as if my life depended upon it.
Back at the house, Ami lied, telling her parents she had touched a plant that had made her skin itch. Her grandfather bought out an old biscuit tin full of medicines and noxious-smelling lotions, selected one, and liberally applied it to Ami’s fingers.
“You should take care in the garden,” he said as he administered the ointment. “The beauty of nature can often be misleading.”
Neither of us spoke of the nothing tree; and I certainly didn’t mention a word about the fruit.
For several days after visiting her grandfather, I would often catch Ami staring intently at her hand or wiping it absentmindedly on her clothing. This worried me greatly, but I was far too scared to bring up the subject in conversation. The sense of relief I felt when that curious habit of hers passed was beyond words. Our lives returned to normal and memories of that afternoon slowly started to fade.
Three months later, Ami’s grandfather turned sixty. A party was organized to be held at his house, on the account of the premises being so large. My parents and I were amongst the first to be invited, but it wasn’t long before most people on our street were included on the guest list.
“There’s going to be nearly a hundred people there!” Ami told me. “There’s going to be fireworks and everything! Oh, it’s going to be so cool!”
The days leading up to the party were filled with excitement. Ami would fill me in on all the details of the celebration plans, what fireworks there were going to be and what kinds of food we would be able to eat. Her enthusiasm was infectious and I found myself anticipating the party’s arrival as much as her. I even started to mark off the days on my calendar.
If only I’d know what was to take place that day.
My family were the first guests from our street to arrive at the party. We were greeted by Ami’s parents and grandfather and then introduced to a never-ending line of relatives. Once formalities were out of the way, my mother offered to help out with the preparations in the kitchen while my father made himself busy decorating trees with fairy lights.
“Let’s go to the back garden,” Ami said. “I want to show you the fireworks.”
I was led through the house, out into the back garden and to the small shed that sat to the left of the apple trees. Ami pushed open the wooden door and disappeared inside. Inside the shed, Ami showed me a selection of large colourful boxes that were home to the fireworks she was anticipating seeing. As she started to explain which would be the most beautiful or loudest, I found my attention drifting. I couldn’t stop myself from looking back through the door towards the apple trees and the path in-between them.
“Do you want to go and look?”
My heart skipped a beat at that question. I turned to look at Ami and shook my head.
“Come on,” she said. “I think the fruit must be dead by now. If it has dropped from the tree, we can jump up and down on it until it’s nothing but mush.”
The idea of stamping that thing into pulp and juice appealed to me greatly, but I remained a little hesitant.
“Come on,” Ami pleaded, her eyes full of mischief. “Let’s go kill it.”
We left the shed and ran towards where the tree stood, laughing as we went, our minds filled with murderous intent.
Our laughter stopped as soon as we entered the clearing, for the fruit of the nothing tree was far from dead.
Since the last time we had seen it, the fruit had continued to swell and grow.
What we saw made us freeze in our tracks, numbed into silent horror.
Hanging pendulously from a bowing branch, was a grotesque parody of a human head.
Thick tendrils of hair had grown from the top of the fruit and had stretched up towards nearby branches, entwining themselves around them as if for support. I could see two lumps on either side of the fruit that resembled ears, a smaller one in the center that had become a nose. While Ami’s eyes were beautifully dark, this thing had two milky-white pools that blindly gazed at us. The fruit’s vicious slit of a mouth curved itself into a cruel smile as we stared in frozen fear.
My knees buckled as it spoke in Ami’s voice. I heard Ami gasp for breath as she too fell to her knees.
“Ami. You gave me life. I’m so happy you came back to me…”
“What are you?” Ami whispered.
The fruit began to giggle. A sound that always filled my heart with joy when it came from Ami. This sound made me want to vomit.
“I was nothing. Now, I live. You gave me life. Now, I will end all life. I am the first. I will be the end…”
Some of the lengths of hair that kept the Ami-fruit anchored to the tree, started to slowly unwind themselves from the branches. Once free, they swayed from side to side, moving in the breeze like the legs of a spider.
“Why?” Ami sobbed. “Why do you look like me?”
“You are so beautiful.” it sneered. “Am I beautiful, Ami?”
“No,” Ami screamed. “No. No. NO!”
Two lengths of hair shot out towards Ami. Seconds later, she was pulled high into the air by her arms, her legs kicking wildly as she struggled to break free.
Tears poured down my face as Ami continued to kick and scream.
I could only watch as she was hauled higher, paralyzed with terror as she was pulled face to face with the Ami-fruit.
“I am nothing. I have nothing,” it said in a sickly-sweet voice.
Ami’s screams were silenced as the Ami-fruit bit deeply into her face. It tore off a large chunk of her left cheek and most of her nose, before clamping it’s gore-filled mouth over hers.
I passed out as it continued feasting on the head of the girl I loved.
When I came to, I was lying in a hospital bed. My parents were standing over me with looks of deep concern and worry etched on their faces. I started to get up but was told to lie still.
“You had quite a fall,” said my father. “You are lucky you didn’t break your neck.”
I didn’t understand what they meant. My head was pounding like a drum. I raised my hand to the back of my head and felt a thick bandage covering a large lump. A wave of excruciating pain hit me as soon as my fingers made contact with it.
“Doctors say you will be fine,” said my mother. “You have a mild concussion, that’s all. Like your father said, you are very lucky you didn’t cause yourself a serious injury falling out of that tree.”
“What do you mean? I fell out of a tree?”
My parents went on to explain I had climbed up a tree to see if there was any fruit on its higher branches. I had lost my footing and had come crashing head first to the ground. Ami’s screams had alerted the rest of the party goers of my accident.
I was totally confused. Had I really fallen out of a tree? The pain in my head was real enough to back up this story, but what about the fruit of the nothing tree? Had that all been nothing but a dream? My last clear memory was of the fruit-creature eating Ami’s face. My heart began to beat violently against my ribcage.
“Is Ami Ok?” I asked, “Is she alive?”
“Of course she is alive,” my mother laughed. “She is fine. Just scared, that’s all. That girl thinks the world of you, you know.”
I lent back against my pillow, wincing in pain as I did so.
“You need to rest,” said my father. “The doctors want to keep you in overnight for observation. Try to rest.”
I closed my eyes and succumbed to sleep almost instantly.
I returned home the next day and sent straight to bed. I still felt groggy and the lump on my head pulsed and throbbed, causing me much discomfort. I drifted in and out of sleep for most of the afternoon, my dreams turning into nightmares of the Ami-fruit gorging itself on Ami’s sweet face.
It was late evening when my mother peered around my bedroom door to inform me I had a visitor. Ami walked slowly into my room, clutching a bunch of brightly-coloured flowers. I slowly shifted myself into an upright position and looked long and hard at the girl standing before me. She was dressed in a faded pair of jeans and a purple polo-neck jumper. Her long dark hair reached down to her shoulders, her eyes and smile were both wide and warm.
“Is it you?” I asked.
“Of course I’m Ami,” she said with a smile. “Who else am I supposed to be?”
“I don’t know.”
“That bump to the head must have really hurt. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said. “I’m just glad you are OK.”
“Course in OK!” she laughed. “I’m just worried about you!”
She held the flowers out before her and smiled.
“I got you some flowers.”
“Do you like them?”
“Sure. They are beautiful.”
She placed the flowers on my computer desk and came to sit at the edge of my bed. Her slender fingers gently stroked my hand as she repeated the question.
“Like me? Do you think I’m beautiful?”
I swallowed hard and told her she was.
“Do you love me?”
I nodded and told her that I did.
“I’m so glad.”
She slowly leant forward and kissed me lightly on the lips.
“I was so lonely on that tree.”
I now live far away from everything and everyone I once knew. Nobody here knows that, in another country, I killed a young girl, that I beat her to death with a cricket bat, splitting her skull wide-open.
Nobody knows that I insisted the girl was not human. Of course, no one believed me. Who on Earth would believe a twelve year-old killer and his tale of strange trees that bear fruit that can take human form?
After being locked away for many years, I learned to keep quiet. It’s better that way. At least if the end does come the nothing tree’s fruit, I can look back and say ‘I told you so.’
But, for now, I’m just the quiet old man who lives at the end of the street.
The man people know nothing about.
The man who has nothing growing in his garden.
I am the nothing man.
Simon Paul Wilson
Simon Paul Wilson is a U.K. based writer of horror and science fiction.
He is currently writing a cyberpunk horror trilogy, the first of which is GhostCityGirl and was published by Not A Pipe publishing in 2020.
Click this link for more info: Ghost City Girl
There now follows a list of writers who have influenced his reading tastes and writing style:
James Herbert. Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Clive Barker, China Mieville, Haruki Murakami, Carlton Mellick III, Brian Keene, and Adam Nevill.
Simon lives somewhere in the middle of England with his wonderful family. He likes to listen to post-rock and progressive rock at loud volumes. He also plays a mean air bass.
Follow him on Twitter: @spwzen