It is my pleasure to present to you the first of two 4th place winners from the July 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Dabney Farmer’s “The Bloody Dogwood Tree.”
Dabney is at it again, this time flexing the writerly muscles to bring us a horror story I think you’ll enjoy.
Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it at the bottom of the post.
FOURTH PLACE WINNER
“The Bloody Dogwood Tree”
Sometimes the ones we love are the ones who hurt us the most, both in life and in death.
– Dabney Farmer
They say I’m crazy. Actually, they say a lot of things about me behind my back when they think I’m not listening. Shows what they know, I’m always listening.
They say I’m depressed, anxious, a homebody, a loner, or just a cranky jerk. They didn’t say that about me before, but now they do.
It all started when I went to a small plant shop and bought a simple, skinny, seven-foot-tall, dogwood tree.
It was a normal-looking tree by all accounts, with white flowers that weren’t pretty, but weren’t ugly either; and a few blood-red berries about the size of peas growing on only one branch. Not a lot as it was small at the time.
I planted the tree in my backyard as a tribute to my late wife, who had died earlier that year. She had always wanted a dogwood tree when she was alive, but one fateful day her long-standing illness took her—sooner than we both expected.
It took forever to dig the hole. I never knew how many rocks were in my yard until I started digging. You’d think I’d’ have remembered that, since I’d needed to dig holes in my yard before for making a fence, but of course, wouldn’t you know the spot I picked for the tree had the most rocks in it. Once dirt was packed around it, I took a step back. It was a rather plain thing for all the work it took. But for my wife’s memory, it was worth it.
When she’d been alive, planting the tree for her was the furthest thing from my mind. But now that she was gone, it felt like the least I could do after all we’d been through together.
My late wife and I fought over a lot of things that seem stupid now. She always wanted a dog. I didn’t, as I hate things that crap in yards. She always wanted to go to the movies. I didn’t, as there is always something for free on TV, like sports center. She always wanted me to wipe my feet when I came in as she was such a clean freak, I just didn’t, it was my house after all , so what if its dirty. Deal with it! She wanted me to get rid of all my old junk, I didn’t, what’s the worse that could happen if I keep my old stuff.
She always wanted a garden in the backyard, and I… Well you get the idea.
Whenever my late wife got mad at me, which had been more frequent during last year of her life, she would scrunch up her face, showing off all her wrinkles. It reminded me of one of those Chinese Shar-Pei dogs.
I’d have to bite my lip hard not to laugh when she did that, or from blurting out she didn’t need a dog, she already looked like one.
It would always end with her stamping her foot and waving her fists in the air, like a spoiled brat. I used to hate it when she would throw tantrums, but now looking back on it, I see she was pretty funny when she was mad.
The last fight we had right before she died had been the worst. I realize to late that I’d overreacted. I don’t remember exactly what I said to make her so mad. But it must have been something bad, to make her so angry she couldn’t concentrate in the car accident that took her life. I always thought her illness would do her in the end, the one she spent her whole life fighting, but it ended up being a car crash instead.
The really sad thing is, I don’t remember what that last fight was about. The second to last thing I do remember fighting with her about was getting a dogwood tree, but that was weeks or maybe even a month ago. I think… My mind isn’t what it used to be. So, I thought, why not? It’s just a little tree, what harm could it do? But it turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life.
The first thing it did to piss me off was that it grew like a weed in no time. It’s stupid pointy roots stuck out of the dirt, all over my yard like an octopus stretching its tentacles out over its prey. Its roots grew and looked alive, as if they had a mind of their own. Just like something out of a damn nature documentary, the kind that they force you to watch at school.
Those damn roots would cause bumps in the lawn, that would even get stuck in the lawn mower. Which was a chore I hated to do anyway, but those stupid roots made it even worse. When I wasn’t cleaning splinters out of the lawnmower, I was buying new blades for it.
Those damn freaking roots forced me to wear shoes in my own backyard, which was something I’d never needed to do before I got that damn tree.
Even if I wore sandals, those damn roots would poke right out of them like a dagger through butter.
Whenever I’d step on those bastard roots I would let loose with my sailor talk. Which is what I always do when I get hurt by accident. It’s a guy thing.
Wouldn’t you know my luck, my neighbor’s kids would always be right there when it happened. Those damn kids would overhear me and run to their moms and say, “Mommy guess what that man just said?”
Then I would get dirty looks from parents, who were never that far behind from their little brats. Glaring at me with those judging eyes. As if it was my bloody fault I stepped on a freaking root in my own backyard. Even if it was, it was my god damn backyard anyway.
So I should be able to say whatever the Sam Hell I want. If I drop a meat cleaver on my big toe, it’s my God-given right to swear to high Heaven and Hell. That’s what being an American is all about. Give me truth, justice, liberty, and the right to fucking swear freely. But did I ever get any sympathy? I was the one with bruised banged up feet. Sometimes they were more than bruised, they might even be bleeding. But even then, did I get sympathy? NOOOOO… of course not. God, I hated my neighbors.
As if my damn neighbors weren’t enough to put up with, I also had those damn leaves all over my lawn.
So I had to rake my yard every single freaking day. I tried shaking the damn tree so those bloody leaves would all fall down for good and I’d only have to rake once. But no matter how hard I shook that tree, none of the leaves came down. It was like they were superglued on or something.
I even tried throwing rocks at the tree branches just to get the leaves down. But I have terrible aim and I kept hitting my car windows. You know, the only thing worse than stepping on animal crap is stepping on broken glass in your driveway when you go to pick up the paper.
Part of me felt like my late wife was somehow part of this, as if somehow beyond the grave she’d gotten the leaves to stay on the trees as long as possible, just to piss me off. I know that sounds crazy. But she knew how much I hated raking. That was the whole reason I didn’t want a damn dogwood tree in my backyard in the first place.
But, of all the things I hated about that damn tree, those awful blood red berries were the worst. They grow right next to such a white flowers, that only makes them look brighter and redder.
They just looked creepy, like little drops of blood from a nosebleed, or a head wound. People say blood isn’t really bright red, it’s more of a dark brown. It’s true, bloods only looks bright red when it’s next to something pale, like those damn white as ghost flowers, or skin wearing a white dress. My wife loved that damn white dress, wore it all the time. She had it on the day she died. Not sure If I told anyone that before.
They were the kind of berries that are poisonous for humans to eat. However, that didn’t stop every damn bird and squirrel in my neighborhood to come and feast on them. As apparently, they’re are not poisonous to vermin.
Do you know what happens when you’ve got loads and loads of squirrels and birds in your backyard. You get cats. Stray, mangy cats. Do you know what happens when you get stray mangy cats in your backyard?
You get stray mangy dogs too. If that wasn’t bad enough, when you get stray mangy dogs in your yard, you get a bunch of crap all over your lawn.
As if it wasn’t having enough fun stepping on roots and occasionally broken glass, than I got to step in something warm and smelly. That’s a great way to start the morning. But of course, when you have stray cats and dogs hanging around your yard, the other neighbors dogs and cats come to make friends, so I got even more crap from them. Whenever I complained to my neighbors they would just laugh it off and say, “You should be thankful of the free fertilizer they are giving you.”
That was easy for them to say; it wasn’t on their lawn. They all would have thought differently if I’d gone in their yard pulled my pants down and let them have a big surprise on their front porch. I was two beers away from having the guts to do it, but I didn’t feel like going to the store to pick up another six-pack.
Not one stinking animal was the least bit scared of me. Every time I yelled “Get the hell off my lawn you spawns of satan!” They all just looked at me for a second, then would go back to their business of crapping on my yard. People say deer and dogs are incapable of laughing. But I knew they’re all thinking about it. You can just see it in their mangy eyes. I hate animals, but I’ll be the first to admit they’re a lot smarter than we give them credit for. My late wife was a lot smarter than I gave her credit for to. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was somehow a part of this
Now, this will sounds crazy, but I felt all this crap (both literally and figuratively) that was happening to, from the roots hurting my feet, the berries, the animals and especially the crap was all somehow my late wife’s fault.
As if somehow she was controlling these events through the tree she’d wanted so much. I know when your dead, you can’t control things. I know that. I really I do. But, then again, I also know my late wife could be so madly controlling it would drive you insane, just like this tree was driving me insane. She’d always find a way to get her way so it made sense this tree was finding a way to do everything it wanted whether I liked it or not.
It was almost as if she was getting revenge on me for her death. Which was ridiculous, she had an incurable illness. She was going to die anyway. How is it my fault?
Most of the time I was yelling more than stomping around. Which actually pissed off my goddamn neighbors. They yell back at me “Don’t yell at those poor innocent animals, they are not doing anything wrong!”
Wouldn’t this kind of thing affect them too? It’d bring down the property value of the neighborhood. “Oh yeah! Come look at my yard and tell me they’re not doing anything wrong!
But you know what I hated even more? When the neighbors would look over in my yard and say, “Aww look at that cute little squirrel. You are so blessed.” They talked about it like the Queen of England was coming to my yard or something.
But the worst part of that evil, nasty, putrid tree, even more than the berries, even more than those roots, even more than all the other literal crap in my yard, were those damn white flowers. I remember when I first plopped that damn tree in that hole in my backyard, I got a good whiff of the flowers and instantly couldn’t stand the smell of them.
They smelled just like this god-awful perfume ‘Desert Storm,’ my late wife’s favorite perfume of all time. She practically bathed in it.
All perfumes smell like toilet bowl cleaners to me. However for me ‘Desert Storm’ smelled like the worst gas station bathroom you’d ever been in.
When I met my wife, I thought I could learn to love her perfume, but instead, her perfume only grew to smell worse for me. To the point where having her in the room irritated my nose so much I felt nauseous. Come to think of it, that might’ve been what our last fight was about. As I might have thrown that damn perfume out the window and she got in her car to buy more.
I don’t know how, but some how those damn white flowers smelled just like my late wife’s perfume. A perfume I thought I’d never smell again with my late wife gone forever. Only she wasn’t gone as far as my nose was concerned. It was like she was here, in my backyard. Waiting to come in and get me in my sleep.
Most people will try to tell you those white flowers on a dogwood tree don’t smell like anything. But I’m not like most people, I know better.
They have a sickeningly sweet smell, just like my late wife’s perfume did. It matched her personality, that’s for sure.
I got so sick of smelling those damn flowers I cut every last one of them off the tree, which, I learned later is a felony to do. Apparently, since it’s the state tree, there’s some law out there that you’re not supposed to hurt it, at least in Virginia. But what the hell do I care, my family was originally from Canada anyway. It was my tree, so I could do whatever the hell I wanted with it. Thank you very much.
But even with all those goddamn flowers gone, I could still smell that god-awful sickly sweet smell everywhere in my house. The smell started to sink into the house like a bad septic tank odor. I tried to keep all the windows shut, but I could still smell it. I tried having my windows nailed shut, but I could still smell it.
So I got a couple of air fresheners. I’d never used air fresheners before because my late wife had always hated them, big surprise. She thought they smelled like a gas station toilet cleaners, whereas as I thought her perfume smelled like toilet bowl cleaner.
I finally had enough and I hacked that damned dogwood tree to bits with an axe. It was kind of like that Mickey Mouse “Fantasia” short, only replace the enchanted broom being cut up with a demon tree that deserved to die.
When I was too tired to hack anymore, I donated what was left of that evil tree to a mulch charity where they turn lawn clippings into mulch for needy families. My wife always wasted her money on that charity, even though I told her they used most of it in prisons yards instead of habitat for humanity. Not that she ever listened to me.
They all looked so surprised when I came in with the hacked-up tree. You would have thought I brought them a mutilated body the way they stared at me.
I never forgot what they said when I brought them the tree’s corpse. “Gee sir, you didn’t need to cut it up that much, we have a thrasher in the back that does that.”
I burst out laughing, as if I’d let them have all the fun. I did ask if I could see them throw the tree in the thrasher but they seemed uneasy around me for some reason. I guess they couldn’t take a joke.
Finally, the damned evil nasty dogwood was gone. She was finally gone. Well almost gone. All that was left now of that damned tree was to rip up the damned stump. I tried doing it myself, but despite the fact all the roots seemed to be poking out of the ground, they were deeply stuckin my yard.
The stump’s roots didn’t seem to be dying after the tree was gone. If anything, they were getting stronger and sharper. So I had to hire a stump removing service to get it. It took six goddamn weeks for them to even show up. They kept making every damn excuse in the book. “We had another delivery so it’s too late to come now.”
I tried not to lose my cool. I really did. I kept reminded myself that they were taking it away and it would all be over and done with. I was almost giddy when I thought about the stump being gone, as well as my neighbors leaving me alone.
When the stump people finally came, they couldn’t get it out either. Even when they attached cables from their truck to the stump, it didn’t work. The truck almost overheated when they tried flooring it.
Those bastards still wanted to charge me anyway. I had to fight back the urge to not come after them with an axe. Then I got an idea that would be both efficient and satisfying. So I went out and got some dynamite and stuck it between the evil roots of what was left of the evil tree. Even that was a pain in the ass to do, as I had the hardest time shoving the dynamite into what was left of the stump.
Turns out old those old “Loony Toons” cartoon lied to me as a kid, dynamite is not easy to buy, not even online. I found a guy who sold it to me out of his van. It didn’t look that great, I didn’t think it would even work so well so I bought more than I should have.
It was as if she knew I was going to destroy her and she was fighting back. But I was stronger, baby, I couldn’t be stopped.
So I dug holes around it. I even got more dynamite as I wanted to make sure this tree was gone for good. I set the fuse and ran to my house to watch it go off like the 4th of July. But I think in my excitement I used to much dynamite because the explosion was deafening.
Everyone and their grandmother could hear it for ten blocks, shattering my windows along with a few of my neighbors. When the dust cleared, there was a huge smoking crater exposing my wife’s body. That’s when I remembered the whole reason I put that stupid tree in that exact spot in my yard in the first place.
As well as the whole reason I’d really bought the tree. The neighbors had seen me digging the hole, I couldn’t say I was making another fence, it was too close to the house, so I had to lie saying it was for a dogwood tree. That was the most believable lie I could come up with, after all, my wife was always loudly asking about getting a tree anyway. Kind of ironic when you think about it.
You know what’s even more ironic is I might’ve been able to cover her back up before anyone even saw her body, or what was left of it. There were huge mounds of dirt everywhere blocking everyone’s view. With my bare hands, I could’ve probably covered her up before anyone noticed.
If only one of her bones hadn’t landed in my neighbors yard. Wouldn’t you know it, of all my neighbors, it had to be the old woman who was always outside gardening.
I didn’t see her face, but when a big white thing that kind of looked like a skull flew over the fence and landed in her yard, I knew I was screwed. It figures; my wife was always talking to her when she was alive always saying be nice to her.
She would spend more hours talking to that old woman than she ever talked to me in a day. It was as if in her death she decided she would have one more conversation with her. I’m not even entirely sure it was really my wife’s skull that landed in her yard. But I’m sure it wasn’t a rock.
They say bones aren’t really white unless you bleach them white. They’re more brown, but not my wife’s.
Figures, even in death, she had to be freakishly clean as she was when she was alive.
I had to laugh in spite of my situation. Even in death, she couldn’t stand to get dirty. In spite of my situation it felt good to laugh. Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly make me look innocent, or sane.
I tried to explain she was going to die anyway with her longstanding illness, but the courts didn’t see being a total bitch as a real illness the way I did. Even though she been suffering from it her whole life.
I pointed out I didn’t kill her, the car crash did. But the lawyers said I’d been the one to crash my car into her.
Lawyers can be so touchy. So in their mind I had killed her.
I also pointed out it wasn’t like I had lied to the insurance company. I had always said she must have not been paying attention to the road, and that a car accident took her life.
But I never said she was in the car when she had the accident. What differences does it make if a car kills you by driving it off the road or running you down in your garage. Either way you die by car. It was her own fault for getting so angry she couldn’t see I was in the car about to drive into her.
I guess it also didn’t help I had run her over more than once, which I wasn’t aware would show up on bone tests. Guess I should have watched more CSI reruns.
Turns out, more than a few cops had been suspicious of me from the start when they’d found my car in the river, the one I’d said she had borrowed, but not found her body inside it.
In retrospect, I probably should have had her body in the car when I pushed it in the lake, or not kept her so close to the house. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder, as my wife used to say. I couldn’t even get rid of her.
But I didn’t care, even when they took me to jail and the court decided to give me life in prison due to insanity. I was finally free of that damn smelly, evil, putrid, tree.
I was free from my neighbors, those blood-red berries. Those craping berry munching animals. I was finally free of all of it, I was free at last.
Hallelujah, I was safe! Safe from her in my cozy cell which smelled like one big urinal, but who cares. Anything is better than that damn stupid tree.
People still think I’m crazy, even now, but if they had to live with her, they would have seen the crime would be not killing her. I’ve never been a people person anyway, so I liked being left alone in my cell. Even the other prisoners stayed away from me.
But, you know what?…I like it that way.
I feel like a monk being left alone in my own monastery. I was so happy here.
That is…Until the prison had to get the grounds re-mulched.
Mulch that was from the same company that took away the dogwood tree.
Mulch they spread all over the garden right by my cell window.
Mulch that smelled like that damn “Desert Storm” perfume, which I can now smell every day.
What are the odds of that happening?
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: This is a fun story that still delivers what you want. I start reading, and I have to know more. What happens next? We must read on.
It’s also a great example of a writer’s voice (as have several other winning pieces.) Dabney’s relaxed style and humor are her trademark. Within a few paragraphs, you know who you are talking to and it doesn’t waver during the course of the story. If you find that voice engaging, as I do, then you want to read more; if the story is good, so much the better. Voice can’t make a bad story good, but it can make good stories better and great stories memorable. You feel like it would be fun to sit down with this author and have coffee or a cocktail. That’s what creates a following.
Now, just as some people like Coke and others like Pepsi (or coffee of tea or a martini, I suppose), a writer’s voice isn’t for every reader – nor should it be.
But popping a cold Coke on a hot day is often just what the doctor ordered, and Dabney’s fresh, upbeat storytelling style is a pause that refreshes.
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us tomorrow for more winning stories and profiles as we feature our other winners!
- we will continue on with our winning stories and profiles until we run them all.
and much more!
Right now, please join me in congratulating our first of two 4th place winners, Dabney Farmer!
See you tomorrow!