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(The Ghost Tree)

A Timewarp Tale

I never saw the dancers again, though not for want of trying. Strange and alien, tantalisingly familiar, they spin in my sight even now, on the edge of dreams, half seen, half real. But I watched the pub, week after week, my comfortable and familiar friend. It never seems to change.

It’s a bright and sunny afternoon, the sun shining down from a blue sky. I’m coming from a different angle to usual, heading for the shop on the end of my route. I always look at the pub as I pass it, wondering what will be the same, what will be different. But this time… something feels wrong.

I can’t put my finger on it. It feels as though something has shifted in the world, as though something is out of place. Something so subtle I can’t see it, so obvious I can’t ignore it. I look at the Oak Tree over its lengthening grass. It’s the same shape, the same colour. The grass has grown; everything grows so fast in the summer. Yet it looks… sad. Strange. Alone.

And something is wrong. I’ve slowed down without realising it, and I’m only getting closer one small step at a time. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and the sun shines down on me, and it’s hard to believe on a day like this that anything could be wrong, but something is. And, just like that, my eyes are drawn up, to the sign that hangs high above the street.

It should be an old and familiar friend, but now it looks wrong. The strange, fey landscape in its washed-out blues and purples is white and red now, not repainted, because it’s as faded and worn as ever, but somehow changed. Now a deep and dull crimson soaks the ground beneath an almost ghostly, almost bare tree, as if a lake of blood has soaked through the world and changed everything. As if an end has come and a world has fallen and something has shifted forever.

I look again at the building, and the doors seem shabbier than they ever have, the bricks duller, the tiles faded. I can see through one of the windows with its motionless curtains open, and something, maybe a light fitting, is hanging askew from the ceiling. I don’t want to approach, because for once the place is uncomfortable rather than cosily inviting, and I’m almost afraid.

Perhaps the sign only looks different because I don’t normally see it from this side. Perhaps. But I walk on and turn around, and there it is again, a faded tree awash in a ground soaked through with blood, against an eerie sky. It didn’t always look like this, I know it didn’t. My memory can’t be playing tricks on me to this extent. Have I never seen it by daylight before? Of course I have.

I can’t find an explanation. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to approach it, so I turn around again to continue on my way, more unnerved than any building has any right to make me. And then I see a new change, a new difference, something else that’s wrong.

The ground on this side has been dug up and overturned, raw earth instead of lush green. Some rubble leans up against the wall, and I look at the building, and instead of that cosy-cat look I’ve grown to know, all I can see is decay.

Something has changed, and an era is over. And I don’t think I like the new one that’s dawning. Curiosity impels me, caution warns me, and something… something draws me. I look around. No-one’s there, and once again, though I can hear the traffic in the distance, I might be the only person in the whole world. Another secret moment, another slice of time alive with mystery – and with dread.

I turn again, and I step onto the path, avoiding the soil. I can’t go to the window I looked through before, I don’t want to step on that turned earth, so I go the other way, to the one with the open curtains and something hanging from the ceiling.

And it could have been forever
Since the world I saw before
I once saw them dancing
But they’re not there any more
The sun is shining on my back
But all I feel is cold
I peer into the darkness
And it seems to have a soul

The darkness sees right through me
The darkness knows my thoughts
The darkness is just waiting
For all that I have brought
I dare not blink, I back away
Until I reach safe ground
The Wild Hunt is hunting
And I dare not be found