by Rich Young
“Detectives have no idea what caused a Wichita man to murder his family. Harold McGuire fatally shot his wife and their two children, before turning the gun on himself. Neighbors say the McGuires were a ‘normal’ family with no history of violence. Days before the slaughter occurred, June McGuire told a neighbor that she had been having trouble sleeping and felt like something terrible was about to happen, sources say.”
“Police investigating Jill Thompson’s death have uncovered pieces of a mysterious letter from her husband, Craig, in the fire place in the family’s living room. In the letter, Thompson apologizes for his intentions to murder his wife and then kill himself, stating that she will ‘…understand later, when it cannot hurt us anymore.'”
The Tree was remarkable for two reasons. It was in the center of a field with only a few smaller, scraggly bushes, and it was the only tree of its kind anywhere around. Standing at least 40 feet tall with a canopy of loose, airy leaves spread apart like ferns, the Tree had no lower branches. It would have looked more at home in an advertisement for a desert safari than where it grew on this quiet Midwest farm.
Stephen Ross, determined, walked against the wind towards the Tree with his family reluctantly following. Clouds started gathering in the East, behind the Ross family, forming rolling thunderheads as the storm front moved in.
“This is crazy, Steve!” Amy tried to yell louder than the wind. “What are you doing?”
“I told you, it has to be now. We have to go now!” Stephen yelled back to his disgruntled wife.
“To the Tree? With this storm coming? Steve, that doesn’t make any sense.” Amy’s voice now sounded more concerned than angry. “We should be thinking about opening the storm cellar, not being outside!”
“Trust me!” Stephen yelled.
Amy Ross slowed down and considered her two sons. James, at nine years old, seemed alright with this insanity. Tommy, at six years old, and with some tendencies towards Amy’s anxiety, was visibly shaken and crying.
“Everything is okay, Tommy,” Amy reassured him. She held him close. She knew this was crazy, but she trusted her husband— well, kind of. The truth is that they were drifting farther apart than they ever had been before.
In the last few years, Steve had been distant and secretive. Amy was sure he was having an affair, but it was unlikely since he never went anywhere alone. She thought maybe he had met someone online, but he was hardly ever on his laptop or phone anymore, either. He mostly spent time gazing off into the corner of whatever room he was in, and when Amy asked what he was thinking about, or if something was wrong, his answers were short and vague. She thought he may be sick and encouraged him to see a therapist, thinking that he may be depressed, but he never went.
Stephen yelled for his family to keep up as the storm continued to build around them. A few heavy raindrops started crashing into the family, and the breeze picked up a chill in it that gave Amy goosebumps as it rolled over her skin. The pressure from the storm, and from concern for her husband and kids, had teamed up to create a stiffness in Amy’s neck that she recognized as the start of a migraine. Stephen was standing at the base of the Tree waiting for his family. The rain picked up, and the fierce wind blew it sideways into their faces, as Amy, James, and Tommy walked towards Stephen. The wispy canopy of the Tree was too light and high up to offer any shelter from the storm.
“Stand here, here, and here,” Stephen said to his wife and kids, pointing to the area around the trunk of the Tree.
“What? Why?” Amy asked, frustrated, but moved into the requested position expecting no sensible answer from her husband.
“Okay. I’m sorry—I know this is scary and seems nuts, but trust me, I am saving us from something you never need to know about,” Stephen said to his family, who were all holding hands next to the trunk of the tree.
Stephen Ross reached into the back of his pants and fumbled with his late father’s .44 Magnum. After the funeral several years ago, Stephen had found the gun while going through his dad’s things. Stephen was never interested in guns and had locked it up in the attic until a few days ago. Now, it was loaded. It felt so heavy. Sometimes things do not make sense. It does not make them wrong.
“I love you.”
“A Midwest family was found murdered after bad storms crashed through farmland. It is believe that Stephen Ross shot himself after killing his wife, Amy, and two sons under a tree on the family farm during the worst part of a storm that also created the tornado that leveled the family’s farmhouse. Police say that there may not have been enough time for the family to get to safety, and the family may have perished in the house if they had been inside. The tree where their bodies were found was the only part of the Ross’s farm left untouched by the tornado.”
It was dark, but there must have been a source of light somewhere. She could see strings, no roots, hanging down from the ceiling over her head. Her hands felt dirt under them.
“Where are we?” Amy whispered.
“Under the Tree. Well, kind of,” Stephen answered. He was sitting, legs crossed in front of him, holding their sons close to his chest. They turned to see their mom as she sat up.
“Are we dead? You shot us, yes?” Amy asked. She raised her hands up to her forehead, but there was no trace of blood or a hole.
“We’re safe,” Stephen said.
“Safe from what?”
Rich Young is a writer, guitar-player, business analyst, father, and husband from Michigan. He has completed one novel, Letters From Tomorrow, and several short stories ranging from horror to science fiction. His story “The Scraping” was previously published by Garden Gnome Publications.