Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Fallen Tree

note: in the spring of 2007, I was working on building props for my haunt. While talking over the process of creating interesting characters with several other haunters, I decided to start from a deep internal feeling, drawing on my childhood memories as the basis for the props. What developed from this idea was much more than just building interesting characters...I feel it has helped me capture emotion and a sense of being that I would have never been in touch with. The act of writing these thoughts down and dredging up the past to analyze it in a new way has put me in touch with a creativity that I thought was left long ago in my past.

I have always been a bit fascinated by trees that have been uprooted. There was a huge beech tree that fell over in a storm about a mile from my house last summer....they cleaned up the tree but the roots are still there, torn from the ground, creating a hollow or cave. I have driven past this thing for six or eight months now, and I still have to look at that root cave. It's there, on the left...down a hill and in the flat area next to the creek. There is just something about it that creeps me's dark, it's jagged, its like a mouth or a squinted eye. Is this part of a dark creature or is it where the creature lives? I just don't know..... I can smell the heavy, damp, earthy smell even while I am a fresh shovelful of dirt. The smell of a freshly turned field in the spring after all the winter's moisture has drained away. I can hear the hollow, muted sound of a raspy breath. I take a deep, cautious inhale, but no exhale as I listen for sounds of movement. I remember my Grandpa's was always very musty smelling. He kept lots of plastic flowers on the shelves as decorations, but the dank and dust and mildew gave them a peculiar plasticy "old" smell. One side of the basement was finished, and the other was utility space. It had a painted floor that was always cold and slightly sweaty. Under a set of small windows was a washer and dryer. This was the active part of the basement where my Grandma would do her wash. She kept an old rug loom in this part, where she would labor away making throw rugs out of rags to sell for spending money. On the other side of the basement there was a water softener....the old kind that would make groaning sounds and occasionally let out an alarmingly loud deep noise as it "cycled thru" as my Grandpa always said. There were shelves lining the wall where Grandma kept the vegetables she had canned from their garden. And in the other corner was a furnace. This was an ancient monstrosity that looked like a cremation oven. Metal tubing striking out at odd angles to all parts of the house. A large metal door on the body of the furnace. Overly large, overly hot. Beside the furnace was a niche that always housed an old metal bed. for company. in the basement. beside the furnace. mildew and dirt. It had a set of exposed metal springs, and made creaking noises no matter how still you tried to be.
And then there it was. Looking from the bed, you could see an access hole to the crawlspace behind the huge old furnace. The hole was at the top of the wall, and was the size of two absent cinder blocks. We weren't supposed to go in there, but every now and then curiosity would get the best of us (me and my 2 brothers) and we would anyway. The crawlspace had a packed dirt floor, that started about 3 feet below the opening and rose to about a foot below the floor of the house at the far end. It was dark. The only light in this cavity was what entered thru the cinder block hole. Looking down that first drop was like looking into an abyss until your eyes adjusted to the light. The smell here was of undisturbed, dry dirt and broken limestone. We would look, check that nobody was coming, listen for steps on the floor above, and then ever so slowly make the unsure, headfirst descent into the crawlspace. Headfirst was the only physical way to get into this space....our small bodies, the height of the opening at the top of the wall, and the drop on the other side dictated this. I remember quietness. The still of a tomb. The smell of the dirt. Scared of getting caught, but wanting to know. Inside the crawlspace. Listening. a deep breath in but no exhale. There were old broken toys half buried in the crawlspace floor. I never knew whose they were, and couldn't ask for fear of getting in trouble. Old metal cars and trucks with missing wheels. An old plastic train car. Army men. The thrill of being with the forbidden place, the anxiety, the fear, the smell, the quiet, the dark.

There is something about the exposed roots of that big old beech tree....


  1. It's a great sensory memory, and lovely story.

  2. Thanks Ghoul Friday. I will be sprinkling in stories like this amongst the props just to give some background of my creative process. God, I have issues!