Sometimes, I need to refresh my brain. I get project fatigue, and find that I can give my creativity a kick-start by writing something different. Something random. Something throwaway, that has no stakes. Something I can write freely, with nothing to lose.
And, I thought I’d share one with you.
The Midge Tree
Outside the Giant and Fang Inn, stood the Midge Tree. It had stood there for longer than anyone could remember. Its bark was cracked and rippled, blistered into mounds that protruded like noses, or amputated limbs. It sported deep scars, the bark torn open and folded back. Its branches twisted and turned against one another, as if they had attempted to push one another off the trunk. As if they had fought for their space, and were willing to fight to the death to keep it. The uppermost reaches, where the branches gave way to twigs as thin as spiderwebs, reached over to one side, as if caught in a perpetual gale. It reached far enough to touch the windows of the inn, to scrape and knock at night.
The Giant and Fang Inn itself was historic. It rose from the soft ground as if it had broken from the earth itself. The ancient stone had been worn smooth, and each of the large, grey bricks sunk in, their surfaces rising and falling in waves, as if the building were breathing.
The debate as to which was the older; the inn or the tree, remained unresolved.
The Giant and Fang Inn had played host to countless landlords over the years. Many had lasted little more than a week before leaving, giving unconvincing excuses along the lines of ‘family emergencies’ or the area just ‘not feeling like home’. Others, however, had run the inn happily their whole lives. It seemed that the inn, or, perhaps, the tree, chose which landlords it wanted to stay. The others, it drove away. Each estate manager, charged with finding new landlords when required, spoke of it as if it were sentient. And as if that sentience came with a very dark sense of humour.
The current owner of the inn was Erell Wyrlew, a young mother who had bought the inn with her inheritance after her husband had passed away. He had now been dead for longer than they had been married.
“I don’t know what brought me here,” she had told Gallain Ulowin, the current estate manager. “I was wondering what to do with the rest of my life, and I happened to notice the advert in the paper. Something drew me to it. As if it had chosen me.” She had laughed. A pleasant, musical laugh. Gallain hoped that the inn wouldn’t rid her of that. “That must sound crazy,” she’d said with a blush.
“I think you’ll get on very well here,” Gallain had said.
That was seven years ago. He had watched her two sons grow from youngsters, one of them had been just a baby when she’d arrived, into helpful boys who were popular with both the regular patrons, and the many visitors who passed through.
Gallain was one of those regular patrons, and he viewed those two boys as nephews.
“Uncle Gal!” Amain, the younger of the two brothers ran across the room and flung himself at Gallain’s legs before he’d even managed to get through the door.
With his legs hobbled together between the boy’s arms, he stumbled, bracing himself against the door frame before they both tumbled to the floor. “Amain, Amain!” He cried out through his laughter. He peeled the child off him. “Where’s your mother?”
The boy’s face shadowed, and he shrugged. “In bed, I think.”
Gallain glanced over at the bar. Erell’s recently hired casual barman, Narlyn was leaning on the counter, his chin propped in the cup of his hand. He was chatting to some of the regulars, ignoring the visitors trying to place orders for food and drink. Gallain crossed the room in just a few strides, pushing people aside to stand directly in front of Narlyn.
“You have customers waiting,” Gallain said, gesturing towards the other end of the bar. “I’m sure Erell wouldn’t want to see her guests ignored.”
Narlyn rolled his eyes, flicking his hand in a salute.
“Erell upstairs?” Gallain asked.
“Yeah,” came his sultry reply. “Again.”
Gallain passed the bar and ducked through the doorway that led upstairs to the bedrooms. He counted the steps as he ascended, stretching up past the fifth and the ninth. They had almost completely rotted through, and Gallain didn’t trust them under his impressive stature. He’d instructed Erell countless times to get them fixed, and she always waved her hands at him vaguely, offering an empty promise that was equally vague.
He stopped outside the first door. Since the day she’d arrived, Erell had chosen to sleep upstairs. She claimed that she wanted to be among her guests, that she could better serve them if she experienced the inn just as they did. The landlord’s usual living space, behind the kitchen downstairs, had become a storeroom and a playroom for the boys. They slept with Erell, tucked into the same bed. Gallain wondered how long it would be before they asked for their own space.
He knocked gently on the door, before placing his ear against it. He heard her groan, and the creak of the bed as she rolled over. He knocked again.
“Erell? It’s Gallain. Can I come in?”
He listened to the familiar sound of her padding across the room and drawing back the chair she had jammed under the door handle. The bolt scraped back, and the door opened. Just a crack. Erell didn’t put her face in the space, instead keeping herself hidden behind the door.
“Erell. What’s going on?”
“I’m tired, Gallain. That’s all. Aren’t I allowed to be tired?”
“Of course. We’re just all worried about you. Your boys are worried about you. And I am, too.”
She didn’t reply.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
She gave a long, laboured sigh. “What’s the point?”
He listened to her feet shuffling back across the floor, and the bed creaking as she climbed back into it.
Gently, he pushed the door farther open. “Can I get you anything, Erell? Can I do anything for you?” He ventured into the room, keeping his eyes fixed on the far wall.
The large window was crowded with the silhouette of the Midge Tree’s branches. They scratched and scraped at the window, but they may as well have had their fingers in Gallain’s brain. That’s where he heard it, where he felt it. Somewhere deep inside himself. He shuddered.
“Perhaps you should take a break from this place,” he offered. “Get away for a bit. Go on holiday.”
Erell snorted in reply.
“It will be better for you. The boys, too.”
Her head snapped round towards him. “Better? To take them away from their home? Haven’t they suffered enough already?”
“They lost their father,” she hissed.
“But they don’t remember—”
“That doesn’t mean they don’t feel his absence,” she snapped, cutting him off.
“Of course not, I didn’t mean any offence. I just think it would do you all good. When did you take any time away from this place, Erell?”
“You know I never have. Who could I trust to look after it for me?” She laughed bitterly. “Certainly not that waste of space Narlyn.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Gallain muttered.
“Go home to your wife,” Erell said, turning away from him.