“Son, I want you to promise me something.”
“I’m serious, now. Promise you won’t go near the Hanging Tree on Halloween.”
“That big ol’ lonely tree, sitting right outside town. Legend goes, they hung a fella there on Halloween, more’n 100 years ago. Been an evil tree ever since.”
“How can trees be—“
“Shush, I’m telling you. When I was your age, me and my buddies dared each other to carve our names into its trunk. Weren’t no troubles, till Henry Phillips decided to top us all.
Without saying why, Henry gathered us there on Halloween night, just to spite the tree and show off.
We held his pocketknife and Zippo for him while he tied a rope around a rock and tossed it over a limb.
“When he was ready, he hauled himself up and disappeared into the branches and leaves. Then after awhile, way up high, Henry’s Zippo sparked and flickered, and we reckoned he’d started carving.
‘Cept right then, we heard him scream like he’d seen a ghost. His Zippo came tumblin’ down through the branches, with Henry following.
I’ll never forget hearing *CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!* then *WHUMP!* as he hit the ground, dead.”
“That’s what I wondered. So come morning, I climbed up myself. You know what I found, carved good and proper? ‘Henry Phillips, RIP.’ With dates, like on tombstones.
They was the correct dates, too.”
“Why did Henry carve—“
“He didn’t. It was the tree’s message to Henry. Know how I know?”
“Henry forgot to ask for his knife back. It was still in my back pocket when he climbed up there.”