by Jeremy Warach
The branches of the tree stretched over the closely-cropped grass in the yard. It cast its shadow on the boy who sat leaning against its rough trunk, a book propped on his knees. The Giving Tree. It tells the story of a boy and the tree who loves him so much that it gives all of itself to the boy.
He closed the book gently, shut his eyes, leaned his head back and smiled. A soft breeze brushed his face.
"Tree," he said dreamily, "You are much older than I am. You have been here for many years. You must be very wise."
The boy opened his eyes and looked up. Sunlight played through the spaces between the leaves. Just-ripening apples dangled from the branches. The boy stood, then climbed the tree as he had many times in the past. He knew where to grab to pull himself up without having to think about it. He climbed to his favorite spot, where two branches forked apart just widely enough for him to lean back comfortably against them. His feet rested where the limbs he lay on met the larger trunk. It was as if the spot were specifically molded to fit his body. He stretched for an apple that hung just at the limit of his reach. At the moment he thought it would be too far for him, it seemed that the branch holding the apple moved almost imperceptibly, allowing the boy to grab hold of it and pluck it off.
"Your apples are delicious, Tree," said the boy, crunching into the apple. Its tart, sticky juices ran from his lips down to his chin. "You must love me very much to give me shade, and to make such a wonderful place for me to climb and play and rest, and especially to give me these wonderful apples."
He took a few more bites of the apple, then dropped its core onto the grass below. His eyes drifted shut again and he began to doze.
The soft breeze strengthened, rustling the leaves. The sound roused the boy somewhat, but he found it difficult to open his eyes. He tried to raise his arm so he could rub the sleepiness out of his eyes, but the branches against which he lay had shifted and now held his arms against his sides. He tried to free them but they were held tight. He twisted his body to the left and right, but the more he moved, the more tightly the branches gripped him.
He pushed against the trunk with his feet, but something was different. Something was missing. There was a space where his feet had formerly rested. He lifted his head with difficulty and found an opening in the bark of the tree, only a few inches across. As he watched, the opening slowly stretched wider. It was a hole, a black void, a yawning emptiness into the center of the tree.
A deep sound rumbled from the maw below the boy's feet. The sound carried inhuman but unmistakable words.
"Yes, I have been here for many years." said the voice which did not sound like a voice. It had no air of humanity about it, no feeling of emotion or soul. "Far more years than you have been alive. I have let you rest in my shade, climb my trunk and play in my branches and eat my apples."
The branches holding the boy moved, slowly pushing him towards the maw beneath his feet, which opened further. The boy's feet slid into the opening. His mouth stretched open to scream, but he found branches encircling his chest, constricting his breath, allowing not a peep to come from him. When the boy's thighs passed through the opening, the tree spoke again.
"Did it never occur to you," the tree said, in a tone which, if the boy had been of a mind to pay attention to such things, would have seemed slightly impatient and exasperated, "that I have just been fattening you up?"
Over the course of several minutes, the rest of the boy slid down the throat of the tree. The sun began to set, and the sky blazed orange and golden and red. The branches of the tree stretched out over the closely cropped grass of the yard.