As a kid, I always hated summer because it was way too hot. I also hated winter because it was too cold. However, fall was always the time of year I was full of joy because it wasn’t blazing with heat, nor did it freeze you to the bone.
The one thing I liked about fall the most though were the leaves. I’d document the change of colours and sometimes gather all the different shades. I guess you could call it an obsession, but I referred to it as a hobby.
A lot of the other kids would make fun of me for it or call me a leaf freak, but I didn’t care because as long as I had my leaves, I was happy. Eventually I thought it would be fun to collect all the leaves off a single tree. Since I didn’t want to ruin the tree outside my house, I choose the tree across the street. I had only ever meet our neighbours across the street once when my family and I first moved in. They were an older couple, maybe in their 60's or 70’s.
I ran over to their house and knocked on their door. No answer. I knocked again, then an old man answered.
“Hi,” I said.
“Yes, who is it?” he replied.
“It’s Terry from across the street.”
“Oh,” he mumbled. “Well, what is it you want, young man?”
“Well, I was wondering if I could gather the leaves from your tree.”
“Why do you want the leaves?” he asked.
“Well, I collect leaves as a hobby and I wanted to take a bunch of leaves from your tree and compare them with others,” I said shyly. It’s not exactly a sane sounding reason.
“Alright, but whatever you do, don’t hurt the tree, only take the leaves,” he agreed, but there was a bit of worry in his voice.
“Ok, I promise.”
Then I was off collecting all the leaves that had already fallen the first day. However, the next day I noticed that the house across the street looked a bit unattended. It normally only looks like that in the winter and it’s mostly too snowy for anyone to notice, but I did. Since it was fall, I could get a clear look at it . Its roof looked like it was missing some shingles. The sides of the house looked dirty and old and the windows were completely blurry. The door looked as if it was about to fall off its hinges. It was like it was almost abandoned.
I went over to see the old man but this time a woman appeared. I asked what was wrong with the house and she acted as if nothing was wrong. She went back inside and I went back to my leaves. This time only a few had fallen so I had to climb if I wanted to get any before winter destroyed them. I climbed until I was able to sit on a branch and I started to pick the leaves from the branches.
As I was collecting them, I noticed something carved into the tree a little higher up. I climbed up to inspect it and what it said made me uneasy. “To the one that fails the fall, I bound you to this tree, you and your family will be forever linked to it, and if it falls, the one who pulled it down shall carve this into a tree of their choosing and they will share the chains.”
This message was carved in a circle around this top of the tree trunk. I wondered if someone put it there as a weird joke. I climbed down and went home. I decided to ask the man about it tomorrow. The next day I walked over to the house. It looked even worse. Now the door was missing wood around the edges and the walls looked like they had rust on them. The plants and flowers looked dead and faded. I knocked on the door and the old man answered. I asked him about the message and the tree and why the house was in such bad shape all of a sudden.
He was silent for a moment and then coldly said, “Listen, stay the hell away from my tree, you hear me boy?”, and slammed the door in my face, but I had already collected more than half the leaves, so I couldn’t stop now. I snuck out at night with my dad’s lighter to get the rest of the leaves. I didn’t really use my head as a kid. I climbed up to the tree and got the rest of the leaves.
I thought I’d look at the message one last time, so I switched on my lighter and held it away from the tree but close enough so that I had enough light to read. I jumped when I read it. It read "MURDERER" and looked like it had been carved by a mad man. I then heard a loud scream from beneath me and it threw my balance off. I fell and dropped the lighter and the tree was set afire. I saw the old man screaming like a mad man, trying to put the fire out, but I was too dazed to do anything.
The old man then fell over and for no logical reason he and his home burst into flames, then I blacked out. I woke up later in my bed. In a panic, I rushed outside and what I saw still puzzles me today. The tree, the old man, and the house were all gone, like they never even existed. I asked around about what happened but everyone just gave me a confused look and answered, “What old man? That plot of land has always been empty.”
After that, I started having dreams about the old man, but then they turned into nightmares. I started hearing his screams and the tree burning, then it turned into me burning and voices chanting to carve the chain. When I tried to wake up, I couldn’t.
Nightmares had turned into a strange reality that I went to when I slept. I can feel the burning pain when I sleep and when I’m awake I can hear the voices and see the old man, his charred body still burning everywhere I go. It's always the same every time. I'm going to take my own life when the leaves fall.