The sign by the driveway read “Lonesome Elm Ranch.”
Derrick glided his Chevy Blazer into the rutted dirt driveway beside the peeling sign, slid his five feet eight inches out from behind the wheel, rubbed his aching back, and gazed up at the huge single elm tree overshadowing the small weather-beaten farmhouse.
In all of his years as a real estate agent, Derrick had yet to see such a mammoth elm. Its root structure must be enormous. Looking closely, however, the agent noticed the huge tree was dead. Its gray branches spread out to the horizon like a multi-fingered hand, but there were no leaves or buds on the tired looking twigs.
Derrick gazed out over the vast green countryside looking for more elm trees, but not only were there no more elms in sight, he couldn’t see a single tree close by; just green grass and brown dust.
As he hastily glanced over the notes on his clipboard concerning this property, his mind wondered if you could still call the homestead “Lonesome Elm Ranch” if the one lonesome elm was dead. He supposed he’d have to make arrangements to get the eyesore removed and a new elm planted. Derrick rubbed a hand over the rough gray bark – he felt a strange tugging sensation in his fingers and swiftly pulled his hand back. A pulsing headache suddenly began to twitch above his right eye and the agent staggered back from the tree frantically rubbing his hand on his slacks as though it were wet . . . or dirty.
Derrick took a deep breath and moved away from the tree. Pinpricks of revulsion crawled up his backbone and marched across the back of his neck. Trying to regain some composure, the agent turned back to his clipboard to read up on the history of the abandoned ranch.
The Kingsbury family had lived on this ranch for several generations. Seems that one by one the family members disappeared. Townsfolk assumed they’d moved on –
“T’ain’t much goin’ on in Perry Oklahoma to keep folks hanging ‘round here.”
The whispered words seemed to float on the air. Derrick’s chin tightened as he glanced over his shoulder. Of course, no one was there.
Trying to shrug away the fear and uncertainty responsible for Derrick’s aching head, he decided to quickly check out the rest of the property so that he could get on with the listing. He just wished there were more people around here. The ranch house sagged at the foot of that dead tree like an afterthought in a child’s Halloween drawing. And not one vehicle had passed the ranch since the agent had arrived. Silence added a surreal quality to the eerie surroundings.
The small ranch-style house looked as gray and dead as the gigantic tree growing above it. Derrick stepped up on the porch, which creaked alarmingly in the stillness of the day. The house windows held enough grime to make peering through them quite a chore. Inside, the house smelled bad, rotten and decaying like punky old wood you’d find in a forest.
The interior of the house was not what Derrick had expected. Instead of emptiness and desolation, it was completely furnished with old-fashioned flowery furniture. It looked as though the folks who’d lived here had gone out to tend the ranch one day and never came back. Cobwebs shrouded the rooms with an eerie filtered light.
Derrick liked being inside of the house about as much as he had liked being in its yard. Something bothered him about this place -- like there was something dangerous crouching unseen in the dusty corners of this old house – just outside his line of sight. Lurking . . . waiting . . .
As if to emphasize his thoughts Derrick saw movement in the old stone fireplace to his right. There were several logs placed haphazardly in the fireplace -- the wood moved ever so slightly. Derrick crept in closer for a better look and one of those logs reached up for him like a wooden tentacle. Too late the agent saw that the roots from that old elm had grown into the house. Several rough gray shoots gripped the large man and yanked him screaming and sobbing through a broken board and into the old root cellar below the fireplace.
As Derrick’s life’s blood flowed onto the roots of the giant elm a miraculous change took place outside of the “Lonesome Elm Ranch.”
Overnight the huge tree sprouted lush green leaves. The home straightened on its foundation as the well-fed roots retreated and the house took on a warm inviting glow.