The Black Tree was what everyone in the village called it. Nobody alive remembered a time when it hadn’t been there or hadn’t been black. A perplexing runt amongst its tall confident siblings, it never got bigger, never went into leaf, never died, never withered. It was a tree of perpetual winter, a tree devoid of the reliefs of seasonal change. When people walked past it they often found that their electronic devices misbehaved. Watches stopped. Torches caught fire. Phones zapped embarrassing photos to half-acquaintances, unbidden. Couples having mellow, pleasant conversations had been known to turn viciously upon each other in the Black Tree’s immediate radius, brutally detailing long-suppressed grievances. It was said that many centuries ago a robber of the road had been left to die in a metal cage attached to an earlier blacker tree on the same spot, his last meal being three candles fed to him by a local resident, but that was just a story, teased and tickled by time. What was known for certain was that sheep were often found dead on the large boulder near the base of the tree, rivulets of dark blood spilling from one eye. When lightning hit the tree during the early 1960s, a disgraced limping clergyman in his final half decade of life saw the entire trunk change to white and a face wag its wet tongue at him from the bark, but when he recounted the story in the village pub later that evening its authenticity was discredited, because of his reputation, but also because he was quick with gin at the time and wearing an item of knitwear back to front.
Extracted from my latest book, Villager.