When Becky opened her bedroom door the next morning, Cathy was already awake, and sitting up in bed. Her daughter’s tone was flat, more like a statement than conversation. “You have to ring the school Mum. Tell them I am ill or something. I won’t be going in today”. Before she could reply, Becky had closed the door, and was walking downstairs. Cathy picked up her mobile and rang as requested, making up something about a high temperature. No point arguing about it. Becky had changed, and she had to admit to being a little afraid of her now.
When she got to the willow tree, Charity was waiting for her.
“Don’t forget what I told you, Rebecca. For the tree to show the future, you sit facing the other way. Put both arms around the trunk, and your head against the bark”. Becky nodded, her mouth a little dry with apprehension. Kneeling against the tree, she wrapped her arms around it and lowered her head until her forehead was pressing hard against it. With her eyes closed, she spoke out loud. “Show me my future, and all my secrets”.
It was different than before, much scarier. She experienced the strange feeling of melting into the wood, as if she had become part of the living tree. Fighting to overcome the desire to pull away and break the bond, she allowed it to happen, ignoring the icy cold that seeped into every part of her body. She could sense the branches as extensions of her fingers, and imagined the leaves pulsing as they took nutrition into their veins. It was as if the tree was feeding on her energy, like she was being sucked dry.
The rush of images made her catch her breath. She saw things she expected to see, and many things she wished she had never seen. She discovered secrets about herself, and saw herself in the future, older. First in her twenties, and then with grey hair. As the vision slowed gradually, she could see something very clearly. Something about Mum. Her and her Mum.
Breaking the connection, and rocking back on her knees, Becky blacked out, unconscious under the branches.
A long time passed before she woke up. Crawling out from under the canopy seeking escape from the bitter cold there, it was obvious that Charity had gone. The tree had showed her future, and confirmed some of her worst fears too. But one truth was comforting. She would get old. That must surely mean she would not die in the river, by the hand of Tilly. But could she trust the tree? Charity had said she could, but she still wasn’t sure she trusted her. She did believe her, but trust was a long way from that.
As she walked back to the house, Becky felt stronger, wiser, more mature. She could see how you could become addicted to asking the tree. It offered solutions, and also gave you back some of the power it had taken from so many people over the centuries. Mum’s car was gone, so she went up to her room, and did some research on the old laptop. She needed to know more about willow trees. Wikipedia gave some interesting facts, and she copied them down in her notebook.
‘In China, some people carry willow branches with them on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival. Willow branches are also put up on gates and/or front doors, which they believe help ward off the evil spirits that wander on Qingming. Legend states that on Qingming Festival, the ruler of the underworld allows the spirits of the dead to return to earth. Since their presence may not always be welcome, willow branches keep them away. In traditional pictures of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin, she is often shown seated on a rock with a willow branch in a vase of water at her side. The Goddess employs this mysterious water and the branch for putting demons to flight. Taoist witches also use a small carving made from willow wood for communicating with the spirits of the dead. The image is sent to the nether world, where the disembodied spirit is deemed to enter it, and give the desired information to surviving relatives on its return.’
‘In Japanese tradition, the willow is associated with ghosts. It is popularly supposed that a ghost will appear where a willow grows. Willow trees are also quite prevalent in folklore and myths’.
‘In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers.’
‘Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called Under the Willow Tree in which children ask questions of a tree they call ‘willow-father’, paired with another entity called ‘elder-mother’.’
‘In Central Europe a “hollow willow” is a common figure of speech, alluding to a person one can confide secrets in.’
‘”Green Willow” is a Japanese ghost story in which a young samurai falls in love with a woman called Green Willow who has a close spiritual connection with a willow tree. “The Willow Wife” is another, not dissimilar tale. “Wisdom of the Willow Tree” is an Osage Nation story in which a young man seeks answers from a willow tree, addressing the tree in conversation as ‘Grandfather’.’
Reading back over her notes, Becky gave a low whistle. From Japan and China to North America; in England, Denmark, and many other European countries, the willow trees were associated with ghosts, knowledge, wisdom, legends, and fables. Maybe Charity was right all along. Perhaps she could be trusted after all.
When her Mum got home, Becky was waiting for her in the living room. “I want you to arrange whatever it is Mr Vosper has planned, Mum. Stop trying to find a way around it, and let’s just see what happens. I will be going back to school tomorrow, one day off was enough for what I needed to do”.
Cathy watched her walk up the stairs, and a chill passed through her, reminding her of the old saying.
“Someone is walking over your grave”.